Disclaimer: This preview is from a reviewer’s copy of the game that was provided by PSC Games to Open Seat Gaming, but opinions are our own based on several plays of the game.
Description: Step onto the battlefield with the Anglo-Saxon and Norse armies as a part of their impenetrable shield walls. Your armies, consisting of Hirdsmen (armored warriors), Thralls (crazy dudes that shoot arrows and throw stuff from behind the shield wall to help support the battle), and Bondi (unarmored warriors) are pushing back and forth, attempting to break through and cause the other team to run off.
In Battle Ravens, you pick which army that you’d like to play and organize them onto the battle field. You place 6 fighters (3 Bondi, 3 Hirdsmen) into each of the 6 spaces on your side of the board. You place the Thralls in their three spots behind their respective shieldwalls, and you’re ready to get started.
The first player remains the first player for the entire game. Each player has 20 raven chits that they are able to distribute among the 6 areas in which their warriors are positioned. Starting with the first player, they will put as many ravens as they wish (up to 9) behind that area, signifying the number of actions that they wish to take in that space during the actual round. The two players will then do that back and forth until all 20 ravens have been distributed (you cannot go back to a space that you’ve already placed ravens in during this part of the game).
Then, starting with the first player, you choose what actions you wish to take. You can take one of two actions on your turn.
- Move – You can move a warrior from one space to the space on their left or right. No area can have more than 9 warriors in it. Each raven you use allows you one move.
- Battle – You can fight the warriors on the opposing side. For each raven you spend, you can roll a die. 6 causes 2 points of damage, 4-5 causes 1 point of damage, and 1-3 is no damage. Your Thralls are rerolls – you can use any or all of them to reroll just as many dice (1 thrall = 1 die reroll). The person you’re attacking may defend – they spend the same ravens to dice ratio (1 raven = 1 die) and defend, using the same conversion (6 = 2 points of block, 4-5 = 1 block, 1-3 = no block). They are also able to use their Thralls for rerolls.
And that’s completely it. You don’t have to use all of your ravens in an area at the same time. For example, if I put 6 behind an area, I could use 3 one turn, and 3 in another turn.
After both players have used all of their ravens (or can’t use ravens because there’s no one left in a shieldwall area), the end of round happens. If an opponent’s area is empty, then the warriors across from that area push through and have captured that area. If you have lost an area, you permanently lose 3 Ravens from your hand for each area you lost; put them back in the box. Return your ravens to your hand, return Thralls to their area. Then, if no one has won yet, you start another round, the same way as the previous round. The first team to break through three areas in the other team’s shield wall is the winner, causing the other team to scatter and run off before more losses happen.
In the advanced game, you can utilize tactics cards, which help each army to specialize into what they were known for being good at – your Norse army becomes a giant battering ram, or your Anglo-Saxons are now a brick wall that pushes against the other wall. These tactic cards add to the strategy without making things more complicated than necessary.
Review: Before this, I had never played a war game in my life. I always looked at them with interest, but I’d always been intimidated by all of the chits and pieces and how plain that everything looked on the board. This was our first step into it, and honestly, I couldn’t think of a better way to try things out.
The rules were really easy to understand. Sarah and I looked at each other and were like “Oh, that’s it?” The accessibility of this game was absolutely core to our interest in it, and it did not disappoint. One quick look at this overview video from Meeple University and a read of the rules and we felt absolutely ready to play.
It felt like a giant game of chess or other abstract game. When we played, Sarah and I were constantly dancing around each other, trying to work out how to get around the other person and how we could start to wear things down in a way that was effective and that was going to bring the wall crashing down, so to speak. The dice rolls did add randomness, but it was something that I felt was necessary in this.
I loved the idea of the ravens representing your actions, and being able to spread those actions out between the entire board. You can put down a whole bunch in one area, and do a huge push to try and break through the wall, or you can spread things out evenly to do some pot-shots in order to try and break things down a bit.
The art was nicely done, which I think should be a more common practice in war games. The standees had a front and a back (which I found out because one of my sets of people were facing the wrong way during my game) and they were dressed in garb that looked like what those cultures would have been wearing on the battlefield.
In short, Battle Ravens is a great introduction to the world of war games, and it helped to make us even more interested in what this world has to offer. It’s so easy to pick up, but the amount of strategy behind it makes it something that even more advanced gamers/wargamers will be able to enjoy. Even if you have little to no interest in wargames, you definitely should consider giving this one a try.
Kickstarter Information: Battle Ravens is currently on Kickstarter until Thursday, December 6th at 6:00 AM (Eastern Standard Time). They are already funded and currently ripping through the stretch goals. The basic pledge (base game, free Scottish Army, and all stretch goals) is $38 USD; you can also buy a deluxe edition with other armies (Norman and Welsh) for $57 USD.