Saturday, 1 December 2018

Battle Ravens: Designer's Notes

Battle Ravens is currently on Kickstarter. 

You can pledge for the game by heading over to the campaign page HERE. It ends on 6 December.

I thought at least one of you might find it interesting to read my original designer's notes for Battle Ravens, to set the scene and tell you a bit more about why I've created YET ANOTHER game set in the early medieval period...

(And I've added a couple of photos to set the scene...)

A little over 950 years before I wrote these designer’s notes, plans were in place for two invasions of Anglo-Saxon England: Harald Hardrada’s Norwegian army was to land in the north, and William the Bastard’s Normans in the south. King Harold of England met with victory in the north, but death in the south. So ended Anglo-Saxon England, and shieldwall warfare gave way to the dominance of mounted knights. The battle ravens had flown from the British Isles.

Battle Ravens is my attempt to design a modern game that feels as though it could be played on a medieval gaming board with medieval playing pieces. It is not a game belonging to the tafl family, but this was my initial inspiration as I wanted to try something that allowed me to use my collection of wonderful tafl pieces; they were begging me to pull them out of their box and use them. This edition of Battle Ravens replaces my original tafl pieces with Peter Dennis’s evocative artwork.

I’d been working on a new shieldwall-based game for some time, and frequently visited the British Museum for inspiration from their Anglo-Saxon collection. But the game’s design and development accelerated after a superb trip to Stockholm and Uppsala to meet with a Swedish gaming friend. While there, we toured around the museums, and the beautifully rendered helmets, shield d├ęcor and other weaponry spurred me on to create Battle Ravens.

Shieldwall warfare did not involve a huge amount of manoeuvring, other than to ensure that your army’s battle line had no gaps. Skirmishers skirted around the line, taking opportunistic shots when they could, but battles were really won or lost in the dangerous scrum of the shieldwall, where brute force, measured aggression, a sturdy shield arm, and a little bit of good fortune were as vital as weapon skills. These are all incorporated into your limited choices of action each turn.

In addition to planning and strategic decisions, I wanted to include an element of chance – as the commander of your army, you decide where and in what strength your warriors’ onslaught occurs, but you will not know how well they fight until you roll your dice. Plans for each turn often change on the outcome of a dice roll (whether your own or that of your opponent), so the game is as much about reacting decisively to the changing tactical situation as it is to plotting a strategic plan over the duration of the battle.

The use of dice may seem very old-school to some gamers, and they would be absolutely correct: the number of dice found in Viking Age and medieval archaeological excavations demonstrates their use and popularity in this period, so they’re highly thematic in Battle Ravens.