First off, I would like to say that I am a huge fan of the Battles of Westros (BoW) system. It is a brilliant implementation of the Command and Colors/ Battlelore systems, combining the feel of a miniature war-game with the streamlined feel of a true board game. As a long-time war gamer, I cannot think of a better system that gives me a same satisfaction and the stream lined simplicity, it offers a deep tactical challenge without all the clunky rules and charts that many other war-games use.
I don't want this to turn into a rant about how true to the books the units are, because frankly everyone has their own personal outlook of the world of Westros. My concern lies in how certain units are rather distracting and counter-intuitive not to the world being portrayed, but to medieval combat in general. The game designers should focus on making a strong medieval combat tactical game, while using elements of the story to add flavor they should not override what could be referred to as ‘common sense’. I can easily find a game that has limited flavor and spend my time memorizing charts and graphs, but I don't want that all the time. I think the experience of a strongly thematic game has an inherent value, and by making decisions that detracts from those elements results in a flawed product.
My problem ultimately lies with the Fantasy Flight development of the several units and commanders that are portrayed in the board game. While technically excellent, at times I don't believe the writers have a good grasp of the world which they have to portray. GRR Martin strives to achieve a certain amount of realism in his portrayal of medieval era combat. I think the game designers should focus on creating a game that could easily be used for a much more non-specific medieval war-game in the same vein as C&C Napoleonics and Battle Cry do for their respective periods of history. In short if you stripped away all the thematic elements of this game, would everything in this game make sense?
The short answer in many cases the answer is no. While I think very highly of the core rules, specifically the use of leaders rather than the flank orders in other C&C games, some of the special abilities of commanders and certain units are downright strange decisions. There is a big difference between making a unit truly distinct, and outright strange. Likewise, I am not expecting 100% accuracy of medieval combat (that’s impossible), what I am seeking to avoid are the awkward moments in board games when both players stop, look at each other and say ‘That doesn’t make any sense’, which detracts from the overall experience.
I don’t want people to confuse this with an ‘unhappy fan-boy rant’, what my goal is to be constructively critical as possible the game to ultimately improve it.
Game play: Good Examples
1. Clegane Crossbowman: Distinct, practical, and thematic.
2. Knights of Nightsong: I really like the Honorable trait, makes sense in a society which is influenced by the tenets of chivalry.
3. Stannis, Robert, & Renly Baratheon: Wonderfully done, the play exactly how they should feel.
Bad Examples:There are a number of abstract and frankly not well thought out abilities that detract from the experience of the game.
1. Baratheon Core Units (Infantry, Cavalry, and Archers): They should be identical to the Stark and Lannister for the purpose of balance. The factions specific units should be unique not the generic ones, all the C&C games do this.
2. Rangers of the Rainwood: Tree Archer, while the movement benefits make sense, the additional range does not.
3. Stark Kennelmasters: The mechanics of the trait defies both logic and occasionally physics.
4. Stormland Smugglers: The concept of a ‘sneaky’ melee unit in a game of medieval combat just seems completely out of place. This unit probably should have been a sailor or marine type of unit, perhaps with a formation to swap between bows and swords.
5. Mormont Shieldmaidens: I am deeply torn about this unit, on the one hand it’s mentioned in passing in the books, other the other hand entire units of woman are completely and utterly unrealistic in medieval combat. This unit should have been members of the Hill Clans.
6. Bryce Carron: I think they were going for some kind of challenge ability, it seems more like a psychic power. This might just a pet peeve of mine (an opponent forcing you to do or not do something), in war it is hard enough to command our own troops much less the enemies.
7. Melisandre: Restoring models to the unit is fine (thematically speaking), it’s the mind-controlling other units with fire I do not understand. 8. Who named the units in the Baratheon expansion anyway, Stan Lee? Garrison at Greenstone, Sentiels of Storm's End, Stormland Smugglers, Rainwood Rangers, Knights of Nightsong. Sorry, that one is a pet peeve of mine, rather than a real problem. As to solutions, there are several routes. I would rather not see an entire new editon be produced, perhaps FFG could make use of there Print and Play system with updated rules, units, and scenarios. I look forward to any future releases with this product.