Publisher: PSC Games
Designer: Daniel Mersey
Art: Peter Dennis
Playtime 45-60 minutes
Player Count: 2 player only
Battle Ravens Preview
If you’ve read my blog or watched any of my video content, you know I’m not the biggest history buff. Recently, I decided to attempt to cover war gaming. I’m not entirely sure if it’s totally my thing, but I want to remain true to my Jambalaya name. It seems like there are a lot of soloable games in the genre, which is a big draw for me. My lack of connection to the historic events that most of these games are based on will probably be my biggest hang up. I’m willing to take a deep dive into some research for the right titles and I want to be able to speak with some confidence about the game hitting or missing the mark thematically. In this preview and moving forward, know that war gaming is new to me and I hope I provide valuable content as I gain more experience. Ok, that has nothing to do with Battle Ravens, which is why you’re here. Battle Ravens is a two-player game where both players are in a shieldwall battle between the Anglo-Saxons and Norse armies. Think about those terrifying moments right before a rush into combat. Javelins and swords emerging through the small cervices between shields on top of shields. I was checking out Outlaw King on Netflix (pretty good) last week and I was once again reminded that building a shieldwall was such an intimidating and deadly combat strategy. Don’t worry, no one player is dying here except some standee. Let’s take a deeper look into what Battle Ravens has to offer and I’ll leave you to decide what to do with your backing dollars.
In Battle Ravens, players will take turns distributing Raven counters to each section on their side, move troops between sections, and chuck some chuck dice to determine combat and defense results. As player’s troops get picked off slowly, the counter distribution at the beginning of each round becomes a more intense. Eventually a section will be captured, allowing the winning player’s forces to move forward to take over the section. The game ends when one player takes over three sections on their opponent’s side. The game is all about “holding the line.”
Each rounds has three phases and moves faster than expected considering this is a war game. In the raven placement phase players take turns distributing their 20 tokens between six sections (Shieldwall areas). During the game, your focus will shift to particular sections that aren’t not fairing so well defensively or maybe you want to make one last push forward. The placement phase fells like a bluffing session in the later rounds and I quite enjoyed how this all plays out during the game. You’ll question each placement because you have no idea why you opponent would leave one section with no possible actions and another with five or six. Evenly distributing Raven counters makes sense, but changing your strategy to match your opponents unpredictability is what matters most. Once all the tokens are placed, the take actions phase begins. Players take actions one at a time using one or more Raven counters. Your choices are simple, move or attack. The movement action is straight up moving one or more units one space at a time based on how many tokens you want to spend. You want to move one Hirdmen two spaces, play two raven counters from their starting point and move them left or right. The attack action is where all the pressure comes in. No matter how many troops you have available, you can spend as many Ravens as you want to fight and roll dice. Your success rolls are fours, fives, and sixes. Fours and fives give you one point of damage, while a six is worth two hits. You have Thralls to help you with rerolls. As long as the Thralls are placed before you chuck any dice, you can reroll once per Thrall used. If you start to lose section on your side, you also lose one Thrall, so use’em while you got’em! The player being attacked can decide to sacrifice their own Raven tokens and roll for defense. This presents a dilemma for the opponent. Do you have enough to defend yourself again? Do you allow the attack to go through and risk it? The defending player doesn’t lose their turn for defending, but the opens up themselves to the possibility of being attacked again with little to no Ravens available. The attack and defense play is what makes Battle Ravens an exciting and intense gaming experience.
In the end of turn phase, the toll of combat is revealed. If any section has lost all of its Warriors, the opponent can capture the spot. The capturing player takes over the area by moving it’s Warriors to the opponents side. Here is the catch, if you have a decent amount of Warriors left in the capturing crew, they advance across the board and aren’t available for the rest of the game. This is something I didn’t pay attention and I lost out on being able to move a couple valuable Hirdmen for the rest of the game. The losing player loses three Ravens and one Thrall, which is hard to recover from if you lose two sections. If one player takes over three sections, they win the game.
There is an advanced game that I did not get a chance to play with but I’ll touch on it briefly. Each faction has 10 cards available, but each player only gets access five random cards based on their choice of army. Both players can select cards randomly from the same army, but that limits your pool of choices. One card can be played on your turn and they don’t return to your hand.
Why Should I Back Battle Ravens?
- The gameplay fits the theme. I felt the tension and choices of close quarters combat
- A good dose of light strategy and you will have to make risky decisions and hope for the best. You won’t dive in the rule book much during your first game.
- Good introduction into the genre
- I’m happy this game didn’t overstay it’s welcome
- Having asymmetrical abilities add some replayability
- Good quality components
- I’m thinking war gamers might be expecting more, but this is clearly set up to be a straight forward and lighter experience. I don’t see this game winning any of the hardcore crowd. More like something to lighten the game night
- I question its staying power, but I’m not the best source to determine that after a couple plays. The only reason I say this is because you kind of know what to expect in this game and it’s up to both players to present a challenge. You chuck dice to determine combat and that might not be your jam in the first place.
I’m glad I had the chance to play Battle Ravens. A game like this is the perfect opportunity to introduce war games to a friend or a younger audience. I want to make sure you understand that this is a fun, light, thematic experience. During my plays, I felt like I was commanding troops that were in a close quarters struggle and deciding when my troops should move, attack and defend. The theme made sense and it doesn’t feel like a reach. I also like the poker like bluffing during the placement portion of each round. Simply watching your opponent hesitate and second guess their raven tokens adds an unexpected element of tension that I didn’t expect. I think you should treat Battle Ravens as an entry level game for new war gamers so they understand the weight of their decisions stretegically and maybe present a game that represents the next step. Maybe you want to dive straight into Twilight Struggle instead, good luck with that. I was worried about the game being dry and I’m glad I was wrong. I think I’m the target audience because I don’t delve into war games too often, but I also think more heavy war gamers would like to have a game like this to break things up a bit or fill time until the whole gang arrives at game night. I hope you get a idea if Battle Ravens is the right game for your backing dollars. It’s nice to see games like this on Kickstarter, I find it refreshing. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below. Thanks for your time!