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Reviews - Battue: Walls of Tarsos
 
by Lee Valentine


Battue: Walls of Tarsos

Battue: Walls of Tarsos

Published by Red Juggernaut
Designed by Jim Long
29 game tiles, 8 event cards, 13 loot cards, 6 plastic figures, and rulebook
$24.99

This game is featured in our OgreCave Christmas Gift Guide 2008.

Battue: Walls of Tarsos is an expansion published by Red Juggernaut for its board game Battue: Storm of the Horse Lords. Storm of the Horse Lords was an Origins Awards board game of the year finalist in 2008. This review assumes familiarity with the base game, which I reviewed previously here.

Walls of Tarsos features 29 new game tiles. Fans of Battue will recall that in the base game, the outer wall spaces had no tiles, but instead had their game info printed directly onto the board; those spaces now have 16 new tiles. 13 interior city tiles make up the balance of the new tiles. 8 new Event cards and 13 new loot cards add a couple of new mechanics to the game, one of which involves the 6 new ivory horde figures included with this expansion.

New Rules & Game Effects
As you would expect of an expansion, there are new types of toys to play with. Many of the new board tiles feature new symbols on them. In particular, each of the four towers now has a distinct, game-long power that is bestowed upon the player who maintains control over the tower in question. The towers variously grant the abilities to spy on unrevealed tiles, a continuous +1 to attack, a bonus to recruitment, and a bonus to the number of Loot cards you draw for capturing an uncontrolled city tile.

Some new tiles are brutal to attack, because they cause the attacker to lose one or more warriors for stepping foot on the space, before any battle is actually fought. "Templum Mars" actually kills two warriors for entering the tile before the fighting begins.

The new wall, gate, and tower tiles do not mimic the game statistics printed on the board for those spaces. In general, the innate defense of these spaces is increased by one point and you gain one more Victory Point than you typically would for controlling the original edge spaces. Two of the wall tiles are "secret entrances" that are worth 0 Victory Points, but which are captured for free and give an instant free move off the tile to the horde that captures it.

Two new tiles are adjuncts to the temples of Jupiter and Minerva. Each adjunct gives you Victory Points for controlling it, but grants an additional 5 VP at the end of the game if the player controls both a temple and its corresponding adjunct.

Two tile powers are listed in the rulebook, but do not appear in the set. This caused me a little confusion. These powers apparently appear only on promotional tiles available from Red Juggernaut at conventions and special events.

The new Event cards primarily affect Loot cards and War Chests. Three of the new Event cards are noteworthy. The two cavalry Events make use of the new 6-figure ivory-colored horde that comes with the Walls of Tarsos expansion. The ivory horde is placed by the person who draws the cavalry event onto a controlled city tile to attack any hordes on that tile; if the ivory horde survives the tile becomes uncontrolled, and rampages on to the next closest controlled tile. Generally, this results in a vicious assault on the opponent of your choice, and early in the game it can steal most of your opponent's controlled tiles if he didn't station hordes on all of them. It could eliminate a player altogether early in the game. In this manner, the card can randomly and unilaterally help one player, possibly to the point of victory. For this reason, I don't like the cavalry Event cards. Another new event card randomly adds to or destroys horde warriors on the board, and again it could in rare circumstances wipe a player off the board outright early in the game. In the late game, when you have many hordes roaming the board, the same event card could also easily give a player a massive advantage by increasing all his small hordes by one or two warriors. I didn't like this card either for the same reasons.

The new Loot cards are varied. Some prevent Retreats. Others grant up to 4 Victory Points, but are playable only by a player who controls a specific city tile. Most notable, however, among the Loot cards are new "Reaction" type cards, which effectively interrupt the normal strict turn order to allow for exotic effects like first retreating and then attacking during another player's turn. Another Reaction-type Loot card redirects the effects of any other Loot card just played on you.

General setup rules have changed as well. A player can now start on the same board edge as one of his opponents, allowing players who start the game later in the turn order to have some control over how quickly conflict will arise.

A Few Problems with Rules Clarity
Walls of Tarsos gives rise to some new rules questions, not all of which were well-answered by the new rulebook. For instance, in the base game, the phrase "city tiles" originally did not refer to walls, gates, or towers because there were no tiles for those spaces. Now, however, two Event cards imply that those exterior wall spaces which now do have tiles on them are now considered "city tiles". This is never explained in the rulebook. A variety of nuanced questions such as these are overlooked, and some of the new game cards are not worded with total clarity, suggesting insufficient outside playtesting.

Most disappointing to me, while Red Juggernaut largely reprinted the setup rules from the base game in the new rulebook with a few changes, they left out a key rules change that's listed in the Battue frequently asked questions (FAQ) file online. In the original rules it was impossible to call off an attack and Retreat unless you controlled an adjacent tile. This meant that, strictly speaking, players entering the board couldn't call off their board-entry attack even if they were being annihilated. The FAQ softened this rule, allowing players just entering the board to call off the fight, retreat back off the board, and call for Reinforcements on later turns. These rules are even more important now that the exterior wall tiles are generally harder to survive.

Gameplay Impact of the Expansion
Originally in Battue, particularly in 2-player play, the game could play out as a 2-player solitaire game, where each player plays his own game and ignores his opponent. That style of play is strongly discouraged by the new tiles and cards, which encourage players to attack each other, even early on in the game, and to take control of towers or other key pieces of real estate. The presence of new adjunct tiles and Loot cards tied to locations means that players also care about who controls a specific tile, and this will result in player vs. player infighting over turf in a way that was less common in the base game.

In the original game, players moved aimlessly around the board, paying attention to the shapes of only a handful of tiles. In Walls of Tarsos, players will seek to learn the shapes of more specific tiles, particularly those that offer extremes of power or pain for visiting them.

Some of the new Reaction speed Loot cards make Battue even more cutthroat than it was before. For example, "A Good Day to Die" prevents a single opponent from Retreating from the current battle. Since attrition of warriors on a losing team is a gift that keeps on giving in Battue, preventing a retreat can often be a death sentence to an enemy horde. Some of the Event cards add an enormous amount of luck to the game, such as the "Enchanted War Horn" (which makes the current player randomly gain or lose warriors from all of his hordes on the board) and the "Dotur Cavalry" and "Tarsos Cavalry" cards (which send the ivory horde to decimate your opponent's controlled regions with no risk to you). When cards like these come up, they can detract heavily from strategic play, and on rare occasions they can cause early random defeats of all of a player's hordes. The emphasis in Walls of Tarsos was to make the game bloodier, and Red Juggernaut succeeded at that, but sometimes at the cost of strategic depth of play.

Components & Packaging
Walls of Tarsos has substantially different packaging than the base game. Instead of the sturdy telescoping box of the original set, the expansion's exterior is an attractive full color sleeve that fits over a cardstock drawer (think of a matchbox, and you'll get the idea). Inside the drawer is a custom formed plastic box. The box tightly fits all of the Walls of Tarsos tiles together (preventing them from shifting around). The packaging seems to do a great job of protecting the tiles, and in that way, is even better than the original packaging. If you remove the tiles and want to just mix them in with your original set and discard the Walls of Tarsos packaging, there is easily enough space in the original box for that. If you want to keep the plastic insert for Walls of Tarsos you can store it inside the original Battue box with some careful planning, but your box top will fit on slightly raised if you try this.

In the original game, the box's card well (card holder) made the cards sit up so high up above the rest of the components that they often spilled out into the box. Though it is not noted anywhere in the Walls of Tarsos rules, the card well in the original Battue box has a removable insert in the bottom of it. If you take out the insert you have plenty of space in the card well for both the original and the expansion cards combined. If you do this, however, then each time that you play you will have to pull the card well out of the box and invert it to get the cards out.

George Wu, graphic designer for Storm of the Horse Lords, does a great job in this set as well. Wu's work gives the tiles and cards from this expansion the same high quality appearance as the base set. There is one notable distinction in tile appearance in this expansion: Red Juggernaut intentionally made the backs of the city tiles slightly lighter to help players discern where a given expansion tile is on the board. The expansion tiles seemed to be less prone to peeling and nicking than the base game tiles. Some of the gate tiles had a slight bow to them that needed to be bent lightly back to render them flat.

Unlike the tiles, no attempts were made to overtly differentiate the backs of the new Loot and Event cards. The primary difference between the expansion cards and the original ones is that the expansion cards have a slightly different corner rounding. This seemed unintentional and was not obvious except when staring intently at the corners or edge of the deck.

Conclusions
I liked a lot of things about this expansion, but some of the new Event and Loot cards add too much luck for my taste. Fortunately, it is easy for players to pick and choose what they want to use and what they want to leave out. Even more than in the original game, every player should have a chance to review all of the new tiles and cards before playing with this expansion.

Oddly enough, this expansion adds even more luck to a luck-heavy game, while also adding more territorial control strategy and inter-player conflict than the original set. This expansion seems balanced, but I wish that a few of the new rules and game effects had been more thoughtfully treated in the rulebook.

If you play a lot of two-player games of Battue, then the player-on-player aggression added with this expansion will dramatically increase the level of tactical decisions in gameplay. The territorial control elements added in this expansion will add a lot to three- and four-player games as well.

While Battue: Walls of Tarsos is a very good expansion, it is not a "must have" expansion except perhaps for two-player play. It is a solid value purchase for players who enjoy playing games of Battue regularly, and I recommend it to such players. Players who play Battue only occasionally will have to weigh the $24.99 price tag accordingly when making their purchase decision.

I look forward to future products set in Red Juggernaut's fantasy world of Terris, including Mansuba: Challenge of the Pharaohs.

 

Lee's ratings:

Overall Score: B+
Component Quality: A- (great appearance, with heavy reuse of art on game cards)
Card & Rule Clarity: B
Playability: B+ (overall good with some questionable new game cards)

 

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