Battalia: The Creation expertly combines deck-building with area control and combat mechanics to create an excellent, semi-epic game for 2-4 players, set in a well-realised fantasy universe.
Taking control of one of four nations, your role in Battalia is to build up an army capable of building a network of cities, defending them from enemies, and conquering your opponents’ cities.
2-player game set up
All actions, from building to combat, are controlled by your deck of cards, so deck-building is the key mechanic in the game, but Battalia is far from just a deck-builder. The large board, the array of road and city tiles that fit on it, and the Heroes that roam over it (represented by eight superb minis) bring a whole new dimension to the game.
As you build your deck you also build your nation on the board – cities that you need to defend and develop, and roads to connect them. You start with a single city and can build new ones, connecting them with roads which you also need combinations of cards from your hand to build. You can upgrade your cities from lowly Level 1 to mighty Level 4, plus you can conquer the Level 4 neutral cities on the board if you can build the roads and get your Hero over to them before your opponents.
As well as quietly expanding your nation you can also connect roads to your opponents’ territories and attack their cities. Why? Because to win you need to control five Level 4 cities, and it’s pretty much impossible to build 5 of your own cities on the board. The world of Battalia just ain’t big enough for everyone to live in peace. This brings in yet another cool aspect of the game – tactical manoeuvring and combat.
Made in… Bulgaria?
Map building in progress
Hands up if you know anything about Bulgaria? Thought not. Unless you go for the skiing, I’m guessing Bulgaria is not a well-known country to most Brits. They did us a favour in 1994 by knocking Germany out of the World Cup, but apart from that? Goulash? No that’s Hungary. Dracula? No that’s Romania. Beautifully-preserved medieval cities? Er… not so much.
Yet in 2015 a small but clearly very capable Bulgarian company Fantasmagoria Games ran a successful Kickstarter, rustled up over $100K, and promptly delivered Battalia: The Creation – a mighty game with a ton of cardboard and some impressive minis (not that mini in fact) that should place Bulgaria firmly into the consciousness of the boardgaming community on this side of Europe.
Build Your Deck – Build Your Nation
The beating heart of Battalia is deck building, and right from the start you are faced with the usual tough decisions that (rightly) come with any self-respecting deck building game. The cards you’ll be wrangling are:
- Supply cards – these are the ‘junk’ cards that most deck-builders have to prevent overpowered decks, but in Battalia they are definitely not junk if you get them when you need them. One of their main uses is to hire…
All the card combinations are on the Player Aid
- Units – these are the warriors in the game and they come in four levels of increasing power – Friman (grunts), Chiefs, Priests and Lords (bosses). In various combinations, they allow you to build…
- Roads and Cities – these tiles go on the board, not into your hand, to create the map of the Battalia world
- Artefacts – Units and Supply cards also combine to let you buy these cards which let you do all kinds of useful stuff
There is no currency in Battalia – every card is purchased by playing a combination of other cards, so a Chief requires 3 Supply cards to acquire, a Tent needs 1 Chief, 1 Friman and 1 Supply card, and to build a Level 4 city from scratch you have to play 3 Lords. Working out what you need, what you can get with the hand you’ve drawn, how to manipulate your hand to improve it, what you’re going to need in 5 turns’ time, is all excellent brain-burner stuff.
Combat – fighting opponents’ Heroes and conquering cities – is also card-driven and relatively straightforward: You lay down a hand of cards, your opponent tries to match them, whoever delivers up more battle strength (Frimen are 1, Lords are 4) wins. It’s quite abstract and simplified, but it’s enough with everything else that’s going on.
You are Not in Carcassonne Any More…
In Battalia there are tough choices on practically every turn. You want every card but can’t have every card. You only get some of your lovely hand-crafted deck on every turn. If you buy too many cards your hand is diluted and you get too much junk. If you don’t buy the right cards at the right time you can’t do what you need to do. Aaaaaagh! Why did I even start this game! Can I go back to playing Carcassonne please!
No. You really shouldn’t. And don’t worry, because some of the best mechanics in Battalia are those that let you fiddle with your deck and do what you need to, when you need to:
Cohorts allow you to add more cards to your hand
Cohorts – At the start of Battalia you identify with one of the four factions in the game – Emberians, Barfolk, Cloudborn and Islanders (or as I call them red, green, blue and yellow). The more cards you add to your deck of that colour, the more cards you can draw on your turn.
Normally you draw 6 cards per turn, but drawing more than 3 of the same colour lets you immediately draw more. Draw all 6 of the same colour – a Grand Cohort – and you can add another 4 straight away to your hand. This is very cool and lets you do some epic stuff, since you can use as many cards as you like each turn as long as they create valid combinations.
The Artefacts around the Sun Oracle
Artefacts – The 7 different Artefacts add a huge amount of flavour to the Battalia deck building experience. The Artefact cards are arranged on the table next to the board, around the Sun Oracle – the 7-spoked wheel device derived from the real-life Pliska Rosette, a 7th Century bronze medallion found in Bulgaria.
Each turn, the Sun Oracle rotates, doubling one Artefact’s power and making another one easier to obtain for your faction, so good timing when buying and using Artefacts can give you a significant advantage in both deck-building and combat.
Artefacts can let you upgrade units, store cards between turns, change the faction of cards to improve your hand, and summon your Heroes onto the board. Most are predictable, while one, the Amulet, introduces an intriguing element of randomness by applying different effects depending on the roll of the supersized custom die. It’s a nice touch to be able to throw a die now and then in the game for a bit of tension, or avoid dice altogether if you’re not a fan.
Ambush – Placing a card “in ambush” is a very useful tactic that gives two benefits – firstly it allows you to save the card and draw it into your hand on your next turn, and secondly it allows you discard another card from your hand completely out of the game.This is the only way to thin out your deck and get rid of weaker cards that are diluting your hands, and it’s very smart that this otherwise-dreary housekeeping mechanic also has the useful ambush action attached to it. It’s also a legitimate (if mean) tactic to recruit a unit then discard it from the game in a later turn just to prevent your opponent having it…
Once you have a streamlined deck full of the cards you need, you can generate some mighty hands of 10 or more cards, and pull off some powerful combos
Why is Battalia Not Fully Epic?
I was tempted in my introduction to simply say Battalia is “epic” because of the theme, the art, the extras, the beefy box, the Hero minis, the heft and quality of the components, and the blending of different mechanics that make it feel like two games cleverly made into one.
The only thing that stops it being fully epic is actually a positive – it doesn’t take all day to play.
The custom die is very definitely epic!
Once you’ve got past your learning game and started to remember the combinations of units and the effects of the 7 artefacts, you can play Battalia quite smoothly, with a few stops for Analysis Paralysis when you pull a Grand Cohort and end up with 10 cards in your hand.
It can drag a bit in the middle of the game if everyone builds clunky decks, but it’s not Twilight Imperium. You can get Battalia to the table and play it during a normal gaming evening – say 2.5 hours when you’re learning and 1.5 to 2 hours when you’ve got the hang of it. If you want to make it even quicker, simply house rule the starting decks to include a few more cards.
Wait – There’s More in the Box:
Battalia is the game that keeps on giving, thanks to its Kickstarter origins and the many stretch goals that were unlocked.
- In the base game all Heroes are identical apart from the sculpts. An expansion in the box enables Hero Abilities – special powers for each Hero related to their faction, which adds another layer of interest to the “big dudes on the map” part of the game.
A Hero venturing forth
- The alternate Volcano scenario provided with the base game replaces the single Ruins tile in the middle of the board with a nine-tile seething mountain of fire and lava, and an array of hidden Great Artefacts, for a complete change of scenery (literally, and gameplay-wise).
- Also in the main game box is The Unbound, a mercenary faction, represented by 8 extra cards, whose warriors can be recruited to fight for any player, as long as they’re bribed with Supply cards.
It’s certainly hard to complain about the amount of value you get even with the retail version of Battalia. Tuck boxes for the cards would have been nice seeing as there’s no insert, but you can find some DIY templates on BGG and it’s an ideal candidate for a foamcore insert if you want to go that far.
One Improvement – More Heroic Heroes
Really the only issue I have with the gameplay is how ineffective the Heroes are. They only provide +1 combat strength, and can be ignored by other Heroes when moving or attacking cities, even if they’re on the same tile. The designers have told be this is purely because they didn’t want to complicate the game any more than it is, but I would add a couple of house rules to make Heroes more thematic:
- Each Hero should be deemed to have a fixed combat strength of 3 when engaged in any kind of combat.
Two Heroes NOT fighting each other
- If a player attacks a city with a Hero on it, (s)he must defeat the Hero first before being able to try to conquer the city.
- Players can “challenge” any Hero that moves into a tile occupied by their own Hero if they wish; an opponent shouldn’t be able to just move past and ignore a Hero if one is encountered during movement.
Am I Going To Keep Playing Battalia?
Absolutely. I really like Battalia, even though I thought I wouldn’t. I’ve only just put it away and I feel like getting it back out and trying some new strategies. More Tents, I think – I plan to build a board-side tent city filled with powerful cards to unleash on my opponents. And I really should try more aggressive pruning of units I don’t need.
A hand being played
Battalia plays equally well with 2, 3 and 4 players, and there’s even a fan-made solo option on BGG you can try if you’re on your lonesome and fancy a bit of deck building practice. You will need the practice. Building a good hand in Battalia is hard, but extremely fun.
The combination of deck building, map building and on-map tactical manoeuvring works really well, offering lots of interest at every stage of the game. There is so much variety with the different units and Artefacts, the mechanics offering multiple ways to improve your deck, and the Sun Oracle constantly rotating and creating opportunities to grab quick wins.
The first expansion Battalia: The Stormgates is currently being prepared for a Kickstarter in late 2016, with two new factions and a bigger board – it seems fully-epic is on the way after all!
Definitely pick up Battalia: The Creation if you get a chance. It’s a lot of game for your money, and probably the best thing to come out of Bulgaria since their 1994 World Cup team.
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Mancunian now living in Leicestershire countryside. Grew up with boardgames, miniatures wargaming, D&D, Traveller etc. Left it all behind for work and "normal life", now happily re-engaged with boardgames thanks to Gaming Daughter (age 12), Occasional Gaming Wife (age undisclosed) and friendly local group of boardgame chums.