Quick battle games are a bit of an oxymoron. They can be quick in comparison to traditional battle games, such as the Commands and Colors or Hold the Line series, but they still require a solid 60 to 90 minute time frame. Could a truly quick game actually have depth? I had heard enough buzz about Table Battles from Hollandspiele that I needed to find out for sure. Table Battles comes with eight battles spread across three centuries of warfare. Armies are divided into formations, and the goal is to deplete your opponent’s morale by routing formations. Individual battles are quick, yet strategic, engagements that can be completed in 15 to 20 minutes.
In the Box
The small, yet spacious, box includes a deck of cards, several dice, a few wooden cubes, and elongated wooden blocks in four colors. There are eight scenario cards in the deck that give you the setup for the battle. The rest of the deck are double-sided formation cards, each of which can easily be identified by a number/letter combination. There are no maps. Instead, battles are constructed using the wooden blocks. Every formation has a strength number, so a four strength formation would have four blocks attached. I really liked the nostalgic feel of these as they resembled the formation blocks of traditional battlefield maps.
Once they are lined up, you get a real sense of the battle’s scale. Belligerents on either side are split into formations, with one side being different shades of blue and the other red or pink. I would have liked a couple extra blocks, but that’s just my OCD coming through. The box has plenty of room for future expansions, for which there is one already available.
This is a dice driven game. Each side gets six dice. You begin a turn with actions, but since you won’t have actions on your first turn, let’s look at how dice are used to set up your actions. All dice are rolled and you assign some to your formations. Formations have a number on them that let you know which dice they can take. A ~4~ on a card means that any or all fours rolled can be placed on that formation. Some cards have ( ) around the number and those can only be assigned one die per round. Other formations are assigned doubles or straights of three or four dice.
Generally, your formations will have color bands that are all the same (say all light blue), and your big decision will be where to assign your dice. You can only assign dice to one formation per color group per turn, so there’s much to consider from formation attack strength, odds of building up particular formations, or ability to counter opponent actions. Leftover dice are saved to be rolled in the next turn, and you will eventually get the assigned dice back once the formation they were attached to performs an action.
In the action round, you have the option to activate a formation, which invariably means you’ll attack. Each formation has an opposing formation assigned to it, which mimics battlefield positioning. When you attack, all the dice on the card are used to perform it. Some formations are more effective than others, with some hitting for each die on the card while others simply hit once. Some even inflict hits on themselves when they activate, so you’ll need to build up a powerful attack to ensure you do more damage than you cause to yourself.
Often, your opponent will have a formation that can react what you do. Screening your opponent negates an attack. A counterattack allows you to immediately strike back. Formations can even absorb the hits normally assigned to another formation. The important thing to note about all reactions is that they are usually mandatory, and they will always consume your action sequence on your upcoming turn. This turns the game into a series of probes and feints where you use attacks to disrupt your opponent’s turn or force screens to push through bigger attacks later.
When a formation has lost all its blocks, it is routed and removed from the field. You begin the scenario with a limited number of morale cubes, and one is lost for a routed formation. Lose all your morale cubes, and you have lost the engagement. Some formations allow you to retire them from battle to save those precious morale cubes.
Some scenarios also include reserve formations. These are thrust into battle by hitting certain dice combinations on other cards, or when a particular formation is routed. Reserves cannot use dice until they are activated, and it adds another facet to your decision making in battles where reserves can be brought on.
If that wasn’t enough, you will occasionally have special formations that grant useful abilities in battle. These formations use cubes instead of dice and can be activated by using a solitary cube. Special formations usually represent generals, like Wolfe at Quebec, or artillery batteries, such as Knox at Brooklyn Heights.
Seems like a lot for a 15 minute game? It is. The depth of the system is astonishing, and every turn will present you with problems to solve or areas to exploit. Still, this game flows remarkably well, and there’s no downtime when it’s not your turn.
There are eight battles included, and each has a different feel to it. You may think there is little incentive to play a battle once it is done, but I would disagree. Some of the bigger battles can be approached in different ways, and the dice may change your strategy unexpectedly. The main box alone has enough to keep your interest for some time, and there’s bound to be more than one expansion to such a versatile system.
Some of the battles in the box were historically lopsided affairs. The Plains of Abraham was a decisive British victory that played out in about the same time as the game will. But every real life loser has a legitimate chance at victory here. Hollandspiele’s Tom Russell had an interesting blog post about victory conditions for overwhelming underdogs, and it plays out wonderfully here. The onus is on the British to humiliate the French at Quebec, while the French need to just break one British formation. You always have a chance regardless of which side you take in any battle.
I had debated buying this for some time, and I am glad I finally dove in. Table Battles is the quick playing wargame I was looking for. There are no combat charts, movement allowances are the like, yet you don’t feel like you’ve been swindled into a cheap system. There’s real depth here, and there’s plenty of strategic decision making on tap. The probing and strength building makes for an intriguing two player game, but since you’ll often react to what the other player does, it also solos surprisingly well. Throw in the versatility of having it for a series of battles on a game night or a quick game during lunch, and there’s a lot to love about this game. I highly recommend it.