The duel is an expression of skill, strategy, aggression, and patience. Since the dawn of boardgames it has been the purest expression of games. Exemplified by Chess, Go, and other classic games we still seek the thrust and parry of going up against a single opponent. Battlecrest enters that arena in a stripped down package and asks “Can you design a compelling Duel game in only 18 cards?”
Battlecrest is designed by Dustin Dobson and Milan Zivkovic. It is published by Button Shy Games. Art is from Jesse Turner and Fachri Maulana.Battlecrest is a svelte package of 18 cards and fold out rules. In this you get a Battlefield to fight over and two heroes: Akhena and Mutiny with his buddy robot Rig.
Battle is met over a 6 x 6 grid defined by the placement of location cards and the starting positions of our combatants. Each hero comes with their own set of cards with which to do battle and an amount of health to last out the conflict. The aim being to simply take out the opposition.
The cards you have to power this battle are multi use in an intriguing Swiss Army Knife of possibilities. Moving around the battlefield we add up the number in the top left hand corner of each card in portrait. When we activate a card to use its abilities we turn it to landscape losing some movement flexibility. I’m going to call that ‘tapping’ from here on in for convenience.
What we lose in pace, we gain in power. The icons in the bottom left of each card give bonuses to the actions that feature them. Those actions being on the cards themselves.
Attacking is a simple affair. When you hit with a power your opponent can choose to take the damage or tap cards to defend: the number in the bottom right of each card. The damage tracker is a clever piece of design in itself. A separate card that sits above your row of powers, its position relevant to your action cards telling you how much vitality you have left.
Now we’ve tapped cards a lot to different things: activate powers, defend, and augment. Each hero only has 3 or 4 of these cards, so what happens when they are all tapped out? We refocus: turning over all the cards and untapping them back to portrait. We are ready to get back into the fray.
This dance of cards is the core of Battlecrest and it is a really compelling puzzle.You don’t have to wait for all your cards to be tapped before you refocus. This means you are using your limited resources to move around, defend, and attack at the right moment. Get it wrong and you are on the defensive, getting your cards tapped by relentless attacks. Getting it right is a moment of celebration, pushing past your opponent’s defences with a big move.
The Battlefield itself presents another facet to the puzzle. Each location blocks movement, unless you find the shortcut through. They can also provide bonuses to certain actions or even your defence if you are on the right side of the location. Each location also has an ability that can be triggered by your cards! Although the arena is only 6 cards within a 6 x 6 grid it gives you a lot of variability in your setup and how you move around and utilise the available resources.
I’ve been very impressed by how different each of the heroes I’ve played with and against have been. Mutiny wants to stay back and shoot from long range, using his robot pal Rig to cripple their opponent’s defences. Akhena can take advantage of minions near heroes and teleport in. They have some long range attacks but their most devastating attacks are close range with the vitality to take any counter strike.
I was sent expansion collection #1 with 2 more heroes. Whispyr is a real maneuverable character with a wisp minion. They attack and retreat a lot, using their ability to fly, ignore terrain, and be everywhere. Forge is the opposite. Slow and Ponderous, but with lots of defence and some devastating ranged attacks. They also have a shield which can take a hit then explode for huge damage!
The designers have managed to make all these characters feel incredibly distinct and it feels like there is plenty of space in the design for more characters and locations.
Battlecrest has other expansions I haven’t seen but the game feels complete even with just the base game. I can imagine duelling with just the base game for some time. The heroes are interesting enough to allow you to really pick apart the ebb and flow of each one. Each hero feels like a character you can get to know and learn to play well.
Battlecrest is a game with no randomness despite the card based nature of the game. There are no dice to roll, no cards to shuffle. Every decision is important. Every choice to defend or take damage crucial to the outcome of the battle. I am not a person who shies away from randomness in games, but I appreciate when someone designs a system with low randomness that also feels compelling and dramatic. So often they can feel a bit staid.
Battlecrest is a great design that feels approachable but has a lot of depth to offer. Kickstarter has given rise to the expansive game. Boundaries unrestricted, imaginations allowed to run riot. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that. Restriction breeds creativity though. When you reign yourself in you can find surprising ways to push against the boundaries and come up with something truly special. The designers of Battlecrest have done just that.
A copy of Battllecrest Felwoods Base Game and the Expansion #1 was provided for review.