Tuesday, November 9, 2010

An oddly pointless little game -- Battle Grid

Image of the game (here showing some 100 Years War figures) from the company Web sit at www.zenogames.com

I received an odd duck of a game in a BoardgameGeek trade the other day, a 2002 title from an outfit called Zeno Games titled Battle Grid. After messing around with it solitaire I have to say that it seems like a rather odd, pointless little game.
Now, I don't like to be harsh about someone's creative work, but it's really a disservice to quality work not to take note of efforts that really don't work out.
The presentation is pretty nice, although to me it has a retro feel -- like it's a game from the 1950s before modern wargaming took off. There's a good-sized, full color box that's reasonably sturdy. Inside is a mounted game board with an 8 by 8 square "battle grid." The playing pieces are high quality 54mm American Revolution soldiers by an English toy soldier company in various poses. There are three dice, one each of six-, eight- and ten-sided varieties and a dozen red glass beads to mark 'wounds." The final componets are a small rules set and chart listing various special powers for each of the possible armies, although everything other than the American Revolutionary war figures are ordered separately.
I'm not entirely sure whether the game company is still in business -- the Website hasn't been updated since 2006 -- but the MSRP for the game is $25, which seems reasonable for what you get in physical product.
What's less reasonable is the lack of gaming 'there' being there.
When playing two player each player places four soldiers in the center area, which is a "safe' zone where no combat is allowed in or out. One of the four soldiers is designated a "commander" who can basically act twice per turn for one "order," while the ordinary soldiers can act once per order.
Those actions fall into four types -- Move, Open Fire, Close Combat and Heal.
The "move" action is conducted by rolling a D6 for distance (move 1-6 squares) and D8 for direction (basically N,NE,E,SE,S,SW,W,NW). Aside from the decision to roll or not, the player has no control over where they move. Very odd.
The "Open Fire" action allows a soldier to "shoot" in a straight line at a non-adjacent opposing soldier with a D10 roll, with a 30% chance of a miss, 30% chance of inflicting a "wound" and 30% chance of an outright kill. There's also a 10% chance of a "frag" or friendly fire wounding hit on a friendly soldier if there's a straight line of fire to it.
The "Close Combat" action is similar, attacking an adjacent enemy soldier with a D8 roll and similar no effect, wound, kill and frag possibilities. The main difference is that a wounded or killed enemy soldier gets a saving roll on a D6 to "block" the wound that has a 50-50 chance of negating the attack.
Finally a wounded soldier can try to "Heal," rolling a D6 with a 50% chance of removing the wound.
There are some specially marked spaces on the board that allow for a free shot and free healing and in the corners there are squares that allow a second roll if the first roll leaves yous stuck in the corner.
Victory goes to the last man standing.
Which brings us back to the pointlessness of the game. One may ask if a game requires a point, and the answer is that as an activity it does, even if the point is simply to amuse oneself while whiling away time. By this criteria I'm not sure the game succeeds in even that minor point.
It's clear no test of skill nor any kind of simulation at all. There's no real narrative and very little scope for decision-making. Nearly every decision is obvious and the choices trivial. It won't look bad set up on a coffee table, but there's little challenge in playing it and little charm in the experience.
It's a pity, because some care went into the presentation but insufficient attention was paid to game play. The biggest blame goes to the movement rules, which are essentially just one half step less random than Snakes & Ladders.

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