Friday, 27 April 2018

Wargame Review - Burrows & Badgers: A Skirmish Game of Anthropomorphic Animals

Burrows & BadgersBy Michael Lovejoy

Published by Osprey Games

‘The Kingdom of Northymbra is a land in turmoil. King Redwulf is missing, and his son rules as regent in his stead, facing threats from within and without: growing dissention among the knights and nobles of the realm, whispers of revolution from the Freebeasts, Wildbeasts encroaching on the borders, and bandits of all stripes making the most of the chaos.

Burrows & Badgers is a tabletop skirmish game set in the ancient realm of Northymbra, a kingdom where mice, badgers, toads and other animals wear armour, wield swords, and cast magic spells.

Your tabletop becomes part of the Kingdom of Northymbra, whose ruined villages, haunted forests, and misty marshes play host to brutal ambushes and desperate skirmishes. Lead your warband from battle to battle, and uphold the name of your faction, whether you stand with Reinert's Royalists, the Freebeasts of the Fox Families, or simply for your own glory or survival.’

I’m not sure that I’ve ever considered running a game of anthropomorphic animals, where woodland creatures walk, talk and dress as humans and their species determines their personality or capability. In fact, the closest I ever got to talking creatures is Watership Down, so my only frame of reference is a book about talking rabbits. It’s not a great leap to imagine them in armour and swinging swords, so here goes.

The hardback 144-page book is well presented, with black and white illustrations and full colour model photographs. Something that Osprey Games does really well is presentation, and this book is no exception.

The location is excellent too – the ‘animalised’ (is that even a word?) version of England, with borders, history and troubles, is a great setting for the game. It concerns a missing King, terrible weather (well, it is England) and enemy raids, so there’s plenty going on for your warband to get their teeth stuck into and gives plenty of scope for stories and plots to unfold in a possible metagame.

Players will create a warband with various allegiances. These warbands – Royalists, Rogues, Freebeasts and Wildbeasts – are each unique in their own right and have special rules that best represent them. For example, the Royalists will have access to specialist training that makes them much more effective in combat. Your chosen warband is given a Den that acts as a central base which gives certain bonuses and aid between battles, depending on where you decide to set up home. Then you can arm and armour your troops.

These warbands will consist of different creatures great and small; Small Beasts are mice and small birds, Medium Beasts are your cats, rabbits, adders and lizards, Large Beasts are foxes, rats and otters and Massive Beasts are badgers and dogs. In all, there are 39 species to choose from, all have a point cost to decide what you can and can’t have in your group. Each character is represented by statistics; Movement, Strike, Block, Ranged, Nimbleness, Concealment, Awareness, Fortitude and Presence. There’s a selection of dice to use from d4 to d12 – the higher the die the better - and when you fight you roll off between the two skills and the highest number wins.

There are modifiers to help, and damage is determined by the difference between the scores. So, in combat you’ll use your Strike value against your opponent’s Block. If you were shooting you’d use your Ranged value against your opponent’s Nimbleness to make a hit. It’s very simple, quick and a lot of fun.

There’s magic, too, and your magic users can cast spells from different schools; Natural Magic, Light Magic, Dark Magic, Wild Magic, Unbound Magic and Noble Magic. Each school has six spells so there’s plenty of choice between damage, buffs and healing.

The large number of choices gives plenty of scope for players to create pretty much any kind of warband they like, capable of all sorts of things both physically and magically. The choices are very good and a lot of time will be spent deciding exactly what kind of warband you want to go with.

Then there’s a selection of eight scenarios to play through, from simple one-on-one combats to more story driven co-op conflicts, and these are good fun and give you an insight into how to set up your own fights.

Image from the rulebook
All in all, it’s a decent system with a great background. So, how did we get in with it?

First of all, it’s worth noting that I didn’t feel there was anything about the system that truly got me excited. It played well, that’s for sure, and it was quite simple and easy to use. I like the fact that it made me think about how my warband should be constructed based not only on the point cost but also on the abilities of the creatures I was choosing. The game does an excellent job of reflecting the setting and your animal choices do make a difference, but the game system itself didn’t really do anything for me. It works well and we had a good time with it, so the fact that it’s functional and represents the idea of warring anthropomorphic animals well is a huge bonus.

However, it was the setting that I enjoyed the most, and the fact that this translated into the gameplay was what I found satisfying. If you do love talking badgers and foxes with swords – if you’re a fan of Disney’s ‘Robin Hood’ and Brian Jacques’ ‘Redwall’ novels – then you’ll get a lot of mileage out of this. The background gives some excellent scope and I could imagine these creatures running around a fantasy 16th century England having battles and adventures.

As a tabletop roleplayer I could see plenty of potential in this as an RPG; the setting needs fleshing out and the history needs expanding, but when started naming the members of my warband then I knew that the game had succeeded in pulling me in. Booris the Badger Knight is my favourite, and we’ll never forget Takout the Otter, may he rest in peace.

One thing I have to say is that this game will look great with dedicated miniatures, such as the ones supplied by Oathsworn Miniatures. Sadly, we had to use card counters with crude drawings on them to represent our playing pieces and I do feel that we would have gotten so much more out of the game had we used personalized painted figures.

So, all in all? I really enjoyed it. If you’re looking for a straight forward skirmish game with some decent mechanics it’s worth a look but I’m not sure seasoned wargamers will find anything new here, but if your heart is in the wild world of armed talking rabbits then this is most definitely worth the purchase, and you’ll be crying havoc and letting slip the dogs of war on a regular basis.

Recommended.

Image result for Burrows & Badgers interior images
Image from rulebook

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