The Kickstarter project offers a nice one-minute descriptive video that highlights the dexterity implementation of ranged combat that distinguishes "Barrage Battle" from most card-based skirmish games.
Players start with the same three cards on the board - king, wizard, and castle - and a hand of cards drawn from a common deck. The objective is to destroy the enemy king, either by melee, ranged attack, or magic. A rather large board accommodates cards in a 15x7 grid. Players will deploy new cards from their hands to the board, move them tactically, and attack opponent's cards in an effort to reach and destroy the enemy king.
Each player's turn starts with a declaration of "Peace," "Engagement," or "War." The declaration determines how much gold the player receives at the start of the turn vs. how many actions the player can execute on the board. Gold buys units from the hand to the board. Three units may move each turn (although movement is restricted in a "Peace" declaration).
Actions consist of attacking, casting spells, or discarding and replacing cards. Melee attacks against adjacent enemy targets are based on a very simple die roll. Spells generally have some kind of game-bending effect on units.
The turn ends with drawing the hand back up to ten cards.
Thoughts on Gameplay
The "declaration" step at the beginning of each turn poses the player with an interesting decision between building and attacking. The early game makes for something of an arms race and a certain degree of brinkmanship in terms of timing the transition from construction to assault.
Whereas the economy of money seems reasonably well balanced in terms of the rate of military cards being deployed to the field each turn, the same can not be said for mana and spell cards. With only one mana crystal being received per turn and spell cards costing one to six mana to bring into play, on average a player will bring one spell card into play every three turns or so. As other cards are played and the hand is replenished, the hand tends to accumulate spell cards faster than they can be used. The result is that the hand fills up with more spells and fewer military cards, until the player spends actions to refresh the hand. While this pattern might be a deliberate design decision, it feels like an imbalanced flow between mana and spell cards that could have been designed out.
One aspect of "Barrage Battle" that may disappoint some card-based skirmish game enthusiasts is the perfect symmetry of the game. Players start with an identical order of battle and draw hands from a common deck. Fans of differentiated factions in the manner of Summoner Wars - or even such historical wargames as Up Front - will find no such race- or nation-specific characterization here. The game format certainly allows for such expansions, but so far the only plans appear to be for new individual unit types and an expansion for up to four players - not new separate factions.
Components and graphic layout
My review copy has cards with terribly small font, particularly the flavor text, and some dark red icons on dark grey background that make them very difficult to see. The publisher tells me that they have since revised the colors and font style to make the cards more legible. I also noticed at least one spelling error that I would expect to be corrected in final editing.
|Not easy to read "Barrage Battle"|
on this game shelf
The dice come in a surprising variety. The Crystal Caste six-sided dice represent a particularly novel implementation of the dexterity aspect of the game, although they only come into play for one of the missile unit types. The need for the different types of dice for different types of ranged attacks in the base game isn't entirely clear, although the project author hints at expansion cards that may make more specific use of the different die types.
|Crystal Caste six-sided dice used in missile fire|
In a first play-through of the game, players will still be developing a dice-throwing technique, and we found in our game that melee combat was generally more effective than ranged missile fire. The designers tell me that with practice, they have found ranged combat to be quite deadly, so the game play can be expected to evolve with the skill of the players. The unit abilities clearly emphasize the ranged combat aspect of the game, so as its role grows more prominent, so will the tactical implications.
The game would likely find broader appeal if it featured factions with unique units and special abilities. As it stands, the design emphasizes dexterity and tactics over variable player advantages.
"Barrage Battle" will appeal to fans of card-driven heads-up skirmish combat in a relatively straightforward format that still carries some tactical depth, as well as to fans of dexterity games. It will hold less interest for those who dislike dexterity games, who prefer more sophisticated and complex wargames, or who dislike confrontational conflict games in general.
A review copy of "Barrage Battle" was provided by the publisher. No other consideration was given for this review.