One week ago the Hopeless Gamer and I took a road trip north to FFG for a test run of Battles of Westeros with lead designer Rob Kouba. Rob is also in charge of FFGs Main Battlelore line (working with Richard Borg's submissions and ideas) as well as a number of other projects.
We arrived at FFG's event center about 1:15 for our meeting with Rob at 1:30. We were a little concerned as the event center doesn't open until 4:00 on Mondays, but Rob soon let us in and lead us to a back room where he was in the process of setting up the game. Rob had us sit down on opposite sides of the table and I was pleased to see that I sat on the Lannister side.
Just by looking at the board I could see a couple differences from regular Battlelore. First, no right, center, left division of the game board, which was somewhat of a relief for me as my Battlelore games tend to end with me having a handful of left cards with no units in that section. Second, two of the units on each side had a different model from the rest of the unit. For Lannisters, these units turned out to be Adam Marbrand and Kevan Lannister (sorry if misspelled). Adam was mounted and with a unit of cavalry while Kevan was on foot with a foot unit.
The third difference was a long strip of cardboard next to the game board. This cardboard was for tracking morale. I almost became the first player to lose by morale when playing the first scenario (more on that later). Finally, the cards in front of me were similar to those of Battlelore, with a major difference. I felt like there were less of them, but better organized. Each unit type had a card containing all information for that unit without needing to reference a separate card for weapon and movement/attack options. Also, a terrain reference sheet will be on the back of one of the rulebooks and a turn reference sheet on the back of the other rulebook (the two rulebooks are the game rules and the scenario book).
The first scenario involves an attack by Lannister on Stark positions. The game lasts five turns (another small board like the morale board tracks this number). At the end of the fifth turn, Lannister needs to control both Stark points to win, otherwise Stark wins. Stark breaks ties on initiative according to the scenario setup and has a mace marker similar in size and design to the three large markers in the Game of Thrones Board Game. Initiative is determined at the end of the round based on how much unspent power each player has left in the pool. Both players have three command to use per turn in this scenario. Stark went first every turn as my Lannister forces spent have bit of command available each turn.
Players move units on the field in two ways, command cards and by using tokens associated with the different sides of the dice. At the start of a turn each player draws cards from the command deck (3 each for this scenario) and rolls a number of dice based on the scenario (4 here). For each die rolled, the player gets a token matching the roll. Green, Blue and red tokens allow a player to activate one unit of the same color. A purple, mailed fist allows any color unit to be activiated. The black flag allows a player to rally a unit so it can be used again that turn, but it also forces that player to move the morale marker one step closer to their side.
Command cards are very similar to Battlelore in that the card activates a certain number of units, but major differences also exist. Each command deck is made up of 10 fixed cards that are the same for both players. Each commander/hero in the army also adds five cards unique to that commander/hero. In order to play a command card, a player places one of their command points on the commander/hero using the card. That player than activates units within 2 hexes of the commander. Once activated, a unit cannot be activated again that turn unless it is rallied by a card effect or using a black flag marker.
Players alternate using cards and tokens until both players pass and the round ends. Once a player passes, they can take no further actions that turn. The players can keep one token and one card in between turns.
The Lannisters two heroes can both receive up to two command points per turn. They each also have a once per game special ability. Adam can give an adjacent cavalry unit +1 movement and attack dice for a turn while Kevan can transfer damage to an adjacent friendly unit. Both also have a permanent ability; Adam can ignore terrain effects so long as he ends in a legal space and Kevan can sacrifice his attack to give an ally 2 additional attack dice. In addition to their special abilities, these characters are also harder to remove from the game than normal grunts. In fact, for theme, they are considered "captured" rather than killed when defeated. Apparently, they are worth more alive than dead. Both Lannisters require two successes against them in order to succeed in capturing them.
The scenario is balanced, but my ability to roll red results (with no red units in the game) and the Hopeless Gamer's sound strategy defeated my forces. In the end, both Kevan and Adam were captured while only having one point controlled and one unit left in the field. Fortunately, one of them may be soon exchanged for the captured Karstark. I also almost lost due to morale being very low. I rolled a large amount of black flags and used most of them to take as many actions as possible. Apparently, I would have been the first to lose this way in the first scenario as Rob told us it was basically impossible for that scenario. The hardest part for me to remember was to place command points on the correct commander and to use cards that say "Rally all units" only on those units within 2 hexes of the commander paying for the card.
Overall, the game felt like a revised Battlelore. It removed a number of frustrations for me from the game. These include the inability to move th units you want to move(no battlefield sections and tokens to activate units that were further than 2 hexes from a commander) and dice more reflective of troop strength. The 8 sided die has 3 green sides, 2 blue sides, 1 red side, 1 purple gauntlet side and 1 black flag side. When rolled, the black flags act just as they do in Battlelore excpet that "bold" is now called "stalwart." Purple gauntlets act like the yellow shields from Battlelore. Mounted units never take purple gauntlet damage from infantry.
A little extra Lannister information; Jaime and Gregor Clegane are also included for Lannister. Each faction has one unit that is different from the other factions, and Lannisters is Heavy Infantry, the idea being that Lannister can afford it.
I was pretty unexcited when the third secret game was revealed at the FFG grand opening, but I will be buying this game now. Check in soon for answers to the questions people asked us, a Stark perspective and more reasons why I really like the way FFG is going with this game.