Battle Cry!

4 - 5

 

 

Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: 1999/2010 (Anniversary Edition)

Creator: Richard Borg

Picture lovingly borrowed from http://www.sonofthesouth.net/uncle-sam/uncle-sam-posters.htm
Picture lovingly borrowed from http://www.sonofthesouth.net/uncle-sam/uncle-sam-posters.htm

As is self-evident from the name of the game Battle Cry is a strategy war game. It recreates the American Civil War. Players play as the Union or the Confederates, in other words, North or South America and can play through each of 30 scenarios from the war. The board is set up using Terrain Tiles with different images on them to create different parts of the country. Each scenario is defined in the Rule Book and has a pictorial representation of the starting layout of the board. My favourite thing about these descriptions is that there’s a little historical information provided about each scenario, but at the bottom, right after it tells you who originally won that battle it says: “The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.” And it leaves you to find out who the best strategist is!

Dave and I did initially play the game slightly wrong, because we were in a rush. But this just reinforces our firm belief that you should thoroughly read the rules before starting any game.

Our first attempt at playing this game - we set up the board wrong.
Our first attempt at playing this game – we set up the board wrong.

What’s In The Box:

The stuff. I know the layout of the box looks weird, I have since changed it, but taking another photo was a lot of effort...
The stuff. I know the layout of the box looks weird, I have since changed it, but taking another photo was a lot of effort…
  1. 8 Battle Dice
  2. 9 Double-sided Entrenchment/Fieldwork Tokens
  3. 46 Double-sided Terrain Tiles
  4. 14 Double-sided Flag Tokens
  5. 60 Command Cards
  6. 3 Artillery with Flags and 6 Artillery Crewmembers
  7. 3 Generals with Flags, 3 Cavalry with Flags and 6 Cavalry
  8. 10 Infantry with Flags and 30 Infantry

Plus also (and in a different picture just for fun):

The other stuff.
The other stuff. The stuff that didn’t fit in the first photo.

The Game Board, Terrain Reference Sheet and Game Rule Book.

Playing The Game:

Objective: To capture a given number of your opponents flags before they do yours and win the match!

Although this game has a few scenarios that’re a little time-consuming to set up, it’s actually not all that complicated. Turns consist of five parts: playing a Command Card, giving orders, moving, battling and drawing a new card. I’ve only played two of the available scenarios so far, but both have been really good. The starting set up for the board on the simplest set up is this:

The starting set up for the simplest scenario, called First Bull Run. Blue is Union, Grey is Confederate.
The starting set up for the simplest scenario, called First Bull Run. Blue is Union, Grey is Confederate.

To give you an idea of how simple this set-up is comparatively, here’s a photo of the next one on in the Rule Book:

A slightly more complex (and time consuming) set up.
A slightly more complex (and time consuming) set up.

There’re a fair few men on the board here, but it’s a lot simpler than it appears – the occupants of one hex on the board are a unit and all move together. Infantry can only move 1 hex at a time, Cavalry moves 3 hexes, Artillery moves 1 hex, and a General can move 3 by itself or if it’s in a unit with Cavalry, but can only move one when in a unit with Infantry.

Command Cards:

There are two different kinds of Command Cards; the Section Cards and the Tactic Cards and Dave and I have ranked the Section Cards in terms of usefulness. The least useful are the Scout cards, these allow you to order one of your units in one section of the board, then draw two cards instead of one, and choose which one to keep, discarding the other. Next are Probe cards, you can now give two orders to two of your units in one section of the board. Yet more useful is Attack, you guessed it already, you can now give three orders to three units in one section of the board. But the most useful of these cards are the Assault cards, these allow you to give one order per card you have including the one you’re playing, to units in one section of the board. The section of the board you give orders in is always specified on these cards and can be either Centre, Left Flank, or Right Flank.

A Section Command Card in play.
A Section Command Card in play.

The Tactic Cards are very different, they allow you to do a whole host of things that the Section Cards don’t, such as placing Fieldwork Tokens on the board, which changes the terrain, and impacts on sight lines, amongst other things. There are, however, a lot of Tactic Cards, so I’m not going to go into any detail about them. But you can have a photo of one!

An example of a Tactic Command Card in play.
An example of a Tactic Command Card in play.
Giving Orders and Moving Units:

Once you’ve read out the Command Card you’ve chosen to play you put it face up on the board and announce which units you intend to move. You must order all units before moving any of them. Next you move your units, taking into consideration terrain restrictions and remembering that a unit cannot battle unless it’s been ordered, even if it does not move.

Battling and Retreating:

Now you can battle! Any unit that’s close enough to an enemy unit (or an Artillery unit that was ordered but not moved) can now try to eliminate some of the opposing soldiers. This is done by rolling Battle Dice. Terrain restrictions, distance from target and type of soldier all effect how many dice you roll, and therefore how likely you are to succeed in doing any damage.

For example; if you’re attacking an enemy unit that’s on a hill hex, you roll one less Battle Dice than normal depending on how far away from the target you are, because you’re attacking uphill, which puts you at a disadvantage.

All units have one member that has a flag in them, when fighting an enemy unit, you always remove the flag bearer last. 

I won’t go through how each unit attacks, but I’ll use Cavalry as an example. Every unit has a different range to the others, Infantry can attack enemy units up to four hexes away, Artillery up to five hexes away, and Cavalry must be adjacent to the unit they wish to attack.

Depending on where you are in relation to the unit you’re targeting you roll a certain number of Battle Dice. Cavalry always roll three, unless terrain battle restrictions state otherwise.

Of the three Battle Dice rolled here two were hits. As you can see, the small image on the dice is of a Cavalry figure. When rolling to eliminate opponents you must roll the correct symbols.
Of the three Battle Dice rolled here two were hits. As you can see, the small image on the dice is of a Cavalry figure. When rolling to eliminate opponents you must roll the correct symbols.

These are all six of the sides of the Battle Dice, and each symbol means something different. Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery are fairly self-explanatory – for every one of those symbols rolled, you can capture one of the equivalent enemy pieces if there is one in the unit you’re attacking. The cross sabres are the only symbol that can remove a General from the board, however, if there’s no General in the unit, sabres also remove anything else. The flag is a retreat:

The Battle Dice. As you can see, there are two Infantry symbols showing. This is because there are two sides of each die with the Infantry symbol on them. Making them the easiest units to capture.
The Battle Dice. As you can see, there are two Infantry symbols showing. This is because there are two sides of each die with the Infantry symbol on them. Making them the easiest units to capture.

A flag rolled means that the unit you’re attacking must retreat one hex, however, it can’t retreat onto an occupied hex, unless that hex has a General on it that’s not attached to a unit, the General then become attached to the unit and must move with it.

Different Kinds of Terrain:

There are hexes on top of the board, these are the Terrain Tiles. In both the scenarios I’ve played so far there are only three kinds on the board: Woods, Hills and Homestead hexes. These alter the course of the game in that they place restrictions on movement, line of sight and accuracy. So can be used to your advantage, or to severely disadvantage your opponent. All of these act as blocks in the line of sight when you want to attack a unit, but the Woods and the Hills can be incredibly useful. From the top of a hill the range of an Artillery unit is increased by 1, whilst the accuracy of an attacking unit is decreased by 1. Likewise, on a Woods hex the attacking units accuracy is decreased by 1, but the unit inside the Woods has no such impediment.

Winning the Game!

One the page in the Rule Book assigned to whichever scenario you’ve chosen to play there will be a small amount of information underneath the picture of the starting set up. This will include the historical background to that particular battle, which General both sides are commanding as, who moves first, and most importantly, how many flags you need to capture to win. The first player to achieve having this number of their opponents flags, immediately wins the match. However, to play a complete match, you’re supposed to reset the board and change sides, and the winner is determined after both matches are complete. This probably often ends with a draw, but I haven’t yet played a complete match in this way. The game we played the first player to capture six flags won:

My victory stand at the end of the game!
My victory stand at the end of the game!

Strategy:

This game is tactical, it requires strategic thinking and a little bit of foresight. I’ve found that on the First Bull Run the best way to play is just to push forward in more or less a straight line, going up hills wherever you can, or into woods. If you’ve got possession of the hills and woods you’ve got the advantage, because your enemy is less likely to be able to capture you when they attack.

This isn’t a huge amount of help, as it’s things that’re mostly just common sense, but I’m not particularly strategically minded, so although I’m not bad at this kind of game, I also don’t make plans when I play them. Just take each turn as it comes, kinda thing.

History and Interesting Things:

  1. The first game to be published under this name was published in 1961. The concept of this game was the same as the version we’ve got, but much much simpler. Each side only has 22 pieces, the grid is square, not hexagonal, and there’s only one battle scenario available to play.
  2. An online version of this game was released in November 2008, to GameTableOnline.com and can be played player vs player or player vs computer.
  3. It won the International Gamers Award in 2001 for the General Strategy: 2-Player category.
  4. I don’t have anything else to write about the history of the game, so have some points about the Civil War instead: Before William Tecumseh Sherman became a famous Union General he was demoted for apparent insanity.
  5. More men died in the Civil War than in any other American conflict, and two-thirds of them died of disease.
  6. During the war Robert E. Lee’s Virginia estate was confiscated and turned into a cemetery by the Union.
  7. Robert E. Lee was the bloodiest General of the war.
  8. President Lincoln was shot at, and almost killed, nearly two years before his assassination riding to the Soldiers’ Home (his summer residence) from the White house on an August evening in 1863.
  9. On the Union side, black soldiers refused their pay for 18 months because they were being paid less than their white comrades.
  10. Harriet Tubman led a raid to free slaves during the war, this one raid freed more than 720 slaves – more than 10 times the number she had freed in 10 years on the Underground Railroad.

I read about the history of the war here, and got my game info off of Wikipedia.

To Conclude:

So  this game is great for a few reasons; it’s easy to understand, it’s easy (though time-consuming) to set up, and there are so many different scenarios that it’s going to be a long time before it stops being interesting!

I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a proper sit-down game. It takes about an hour to play a scenario, with around 15 minutes set up time (this’ll probably become less as we get more familiar with the board and different layouts). For anyone with a son or daughter who’s an up-and-coming tactician, this would be a fantastic game to play with them.

If this is a game that’s up your street, go out and get a copy, and have lots of fun re-writing the course of history!

OSKA

 

4 - 5 Strike Thro

3 - 5

Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: 1995

Creator(s): Bryn Jones and Michael Woodward Creations (Designers), artists are unknown

Steven…Sorry, I Mean OSKA:

While this months theme is “Old (usually) Wooden Games” OSKA doesn’t exactly fit that theme. It really all comes down to your idea of old, if you’re ten years old and 1995 seems like “FOREVER AGO” and “BEFORE I WAS EVEN BORN!” then OSKA is old, but if this is not the case then there’s every chance you remember 1995 and so it doesn’t seem that old. It does have an earlier history than its publication but that still only dates back to the 1950s, which some of you also may possibly be able to remember. See the history section for more information.

Our copy of OSKA with borrowed Pieces.
Our copy of OSKA using borrowed pieces.

What’s in the Box:

A picture lovingly borrowed from www.boardgamegeek.com just to show you what a real complete copy would look like.
A picture lovingly borrowed from www.boardgamegeek.com just to show you what a real complete copy would look like.

In a normal OSKA box you find:

  1. One wooden board
  2. Eight pieces. Four red and four blue.
  3. And it should have an instruction booklet to remove any ambiguity about the brief instructions on the back of the box, (see section “Playing the Game) but there isn’t one.

However our copy came from a charity shop (one of the best places to buy games if you were unaware of this). So in the box there was just the board with no pieces! So we borrowed four white and four brown pieces from a game of  Draughts!

Playing the Game:

Normally here I would give a brief outline of the rules but as the rules to OSKA are already brief I have copied exactly what it says on the back of the box:

OSKA is a speedy game for 2 players which is deceptively simple, using the Draughts (checkers) principle of diagonal movement and capture. BUT – keep well in mind the quirk that gives OSKA its bite. The winner is the player whose remaining pieces first reach the far side – the less pieces you have left, the easier this will be. The skill lies in when, or if, to capture, and when to force your opponent to capture you.”

The big problem with this set of rules is that there are more than one set of rules to Draughts. For example in English Draughts you can only take diagonally forwards (unless you are using a king) but in International Draughts it allows you to take diagonally backward. I have assumed that it meant the English Draughts; firstly because it initially refers to it as Draughts rather than Checkers and secondly, because OSKA was invented in England.

So let’s just clarify the rules:
  1. You set up your four pieces on the back row like this:

    Start Positions!
    Start Positions!
  2. We played white moves first but you could play either way, and if you’re playing with red and blue pieces you could play whoever is set up on the white section moves first.
  3. You move one pieces diagonally, the the other player does the same.

    The Game after one move each.
    The Game after one move each.
  4. You take a piece by jumping it, so this can only be done forwards and so long as the space the other side of it is empty. You do not HAVE to take as the rules state “when, or if, to capture”.
  5. The winner is the first one to have ALL of their REMAINING pieces to the other side, so if all of their pieces are taken except one and they get that one to the other side before the other player gets all four of their pieces across, they win.

    Winning!
    Winning!
Rules We Assumed:
  1. We rationally assumed that in the scenario that all your pieces are taken you’ve lost.
  2. We also assumed that if you both ended up with the same number of pieces in the end zone at the same time it was a draw. This CAN occur if one player while moving its last (or only piece) into the end zone takes the other players only piece that’s not in the end zone. However this is unlikely to occur, as in that scenario you can choose to move into the end zone without taking.
  3. We also assumed that if a similar scenario occurred and one person had more pieces than the other in the end zone they won.
A Little Help:

Just to help we filmed a video of the game play of OSKA to help clarify. Here it is! Our very first video blog… Sort of. Our real video blogs will happen when we get a much better camera but it’s a start!

Strategy:

Now while the game is simple (once you’ve clarified the rules) and fast, there’s a lot that could be said about the strategy. For starters you cannot afford to make mistakes, I know this can be said for almost all games but one mistake in OSKA and the other person most often enters a state where they can’t be beaten because all series of moves that follow result in their victory!

The key to the game, I believe, lies in forcing the other person to take you. You can create a series of plays where they have no option but to take you because they have no other available moves. And once you start to lose pieces you have an easier job than they do as you have less pieces to get across the board.

I could go on about strategy and start drawing diagrams and things of this nature (as that how “into” this game I have got, a game that less than a month ago I was unaware existed). But I will spare you all, however, in the future I may write a specific post on the dynamics and maths of the game, which everyone can feel free not to read.

History and Interesting Facts:

Unfortunately due to the obscurity of this game the history and fasts that are about to follow are mostly off the back of the box as there’s not much more information on the game out there. Which is a shame as it’s a good game.

  1.  The game was originally devised by Bryn Jones in the 1950s.
  2. Bryn Jones was a miner so the game was originally played scratched into the dust on the floor of a mine at Lancashire Coalfields to pass time at breaks.
  3. In the early 1990s Bryn brought the game to Michael Woodward Creations.
  4. Woodward Creations annotated the rules and refined it into the more presentable format you find it in now.
  5. It can now be found as part of The Inventors Collection which is a gathering of games and puzzles from the worlds top game inventors.
  6. The game is made of eco-friendly wood.
  7. It can be considered as part of the Draughts family of games.
  8. Not really a surprise if you’ve read the post above, but the rules are ambiguous which unfortunately takes away from a very good and very fast game.

To Conclude:

This may come as little surprise to you (if you have read the above), I like this game! I’m a huge fan of Chess (as most sane people are) and similarly simplistic but complex at the same time strategy games make me happy. However as far as I’m aware there is no game as perfect as Chess and probably never will be. But OSKA falls into the category of games that are in the right ball park when it comes to your basic strategy game. I would even proclaim that it has a one up on Draughts as I maintain Draughts is too large and long a game to have such simplicity, in short it can become boring, which is why to every 100 Chess matches I have played I’ve probably only played half a Draughts game. This is where OSKA hits the nail on the head, its taken the same idea as Draughts and made it small, fast and above all FUN!

The biggest flaw I find with this game is the ambiguity of the rules and their phrasing. I am slightly ashamed to admit that we played the game wrong in two different ways before finally re-re-re-reading the paragraph on the back of the box and breaking it down to create clarity. First time round we missed the word “remainder” so we where playing first one to get one piece across…This version of the game is ridiculously flawed because the person who moves first (providing they’re not an idiot) will ALWAYS win! We also played that you HAVE to capture if you can capture and even after we started paying attention to the “remaining pieces” section of the rules we still failed to notice the “when, or if, to capture” phrase that implies you do not HAVE to capture. Anyway once we had figured it all out this game is a 4 out of 5 however the amount of time we wasted playing it wrong reduces it to a 3 out 5 (hence the top scoring). It could be argued that us playing it wrong is our own fault but I maintain the rules are needlessly ambiguous and if you don’t know what Draughts is they’re impossible to follow!

Additionally if anyone would like to buy the game check out HERE! – keep in mind this link is to an eBay sale so it won’t always be valid but it’s valid at the time of publication and will hopefully either be updated or removed when it stops being valid.

Breach the Keep – Under development!

Now… The totally unexpected and unanticipated game! That thing that no one has been waiting for! A look at the obscurest game of all…

Breach the Keep! 

Also widely known as that game I just made up that’s actually quite good, or so I think!

The Idea:

So one day I’m sitting there and I’m like “I should develop a board game” so I go and create a terribly complicated game about super heroes… Then a year later I come up with Breach the Keep after saying to my sister “we should develop our own board game!”. The initial idea was for the board, I thought it would be good to have a basic strategy game that did’t move in squares, so I came up with the idea of intersecting Octagons, Hexagons and Squares and drew this:

IMAG0970
My super wonky first prototype of the board!

What I was going to use it for exactly hadn’t yet come to me, all I thought was that the octagons and squares had to mean something different to the hexagons. So (naturally) I started thinking about war… Most strategy games seem to be based in some form or other on the idea of war. I started thinking about medieval war and how you had to advance step by step, taking your enemies castles and burning their villages (yeah not pretty but it was war). So I thought, what if the octagons where castles and you had to make your way down the board taking them as you go and holding them against your enemy and thus the initial idea was born.

Development:

Next I had to establish rules to the game, I had to work out how it should work and decide upon an objective. First I thought what if you just had to take all the other pieces? But then that seemed stupid, they (I have no idea who) always say the mark of a bad chess player is one who has to take all their opponents pieces before they can put them in check mate. So I thought what if, like chess, you had to capture their king? Then he could be in your Home Keep that, if breached, meant you lost. This seemed like a good idea so I went with it. We then had to test play (a LOT) to figure out how movement would work and how taking and breaching would work.

Yes those are Warhammer pieces, Draughts pieces and a few Othello pieces.
Yes those are Warhammer pieces, Draughts pieces and a few Othello pieces.

So test play ensued, using pieces borrowed from other games to try to figure out how many pieces were good, how much they could move, how they could move etc. This was a long and depressing process of trying out almost everything we could think of and debating if certain things worked or not. I won’t go in to detail here or you’ll get bored and if you’re still reading at this point you’re probably already bored enough. So in super short detail we came up with some great ideas for combining pieces so they could move further to make them more powerful and so great ideas to balance the breaching of a keep against the defense of it. We also decided that the board was too small so I created this one:

The basic concept of the board - It will be much prettier once it is done!
The basic concept of the board – It will be much prettier once it is done!

Which is still underdevelopment in a aesthetic sense but after much more trial playing we were rather happy with:

IMAG1039 IMAG1028  IMAG1033 IMAG1031

So i started thinking what to do with it next. Obviously I wanted a real copy of it rather than something printed on A4 paper taped together and stealing other board game pieces to play. Additionally I needed it to be tested by a wider audience so I thought “why not start a blog and offer up ten free copies once you’re ready in exchange for feedback to see if it’s actually a terrible game and you’re just blinded by your own delusions!” and so here we are. However the game is still under development, the board is being made to look pretty, I’m busy creating box art and pop out pieces that can be used with the game when its distributed. Additionally we’re trying to make the rules as understandable as possible (I often complain about ambiguity in other rules so I’m trying to make these as good as possible, unfortunately, and as you might be able to tell, writing’s not exactly my forte).

Concept designs for the box cover and for the Octagons (keeps) on the board.
Concept designs for the box cover and for the Octagons (keeps) on the board.
A very basic and rough digital concept of the box art.
A very basic and rough digital concept of the box art.

And Now Let’s Briefly Ramble:

So hopefully the game will be ready in around one – two months and will be shipped to the first ten people who send their address to the given email free of any charge on the condition you give feedback and tell me what can be made better and what you would have done differently. Now you’re thinking “Damn it now I have to keep checking this thing before I can get free stuff… But I want free stuff NOW!”. Well tough! Patience is a virtue, well actually Aristotle wrote about Temperance rather than patience but it could be understood as the same thing… Anyway this is a board game blog not a philosophy blog… Although I should start one of those too because philosophy is the birth of all knowledge and knowledge is POWER!