Wednesday, February 24, 2010

FFG to Release Battles of Weteros: A Battlelore Game

Fantasy Flight Games has mated George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire and Richard Borg's Battlelore customizable Wargame and created Battles of Westeros: A Battlelore Game. The many brain cells that I have devoted to these two wonderful entertainment products have formed an endorphin mosh pit and are bashing into each other in celebration.

I can really think of no two products that would better mesh together than the fictional world of Westeros and Richard Borg's Command and Colors offshoot Battlelore. Given that A Song of Ice and Fire is filled with echoes of the Wars of the Roses and the Hundred Year's War, and that Battlelore is a Fantasy adaptation of the Hundred Year's War (and other Medieval conflicts, the combination is staggeringly obvious.

This should be a pairing without possible criticism...yet somehow Christian Peterson manages to create controversy in what should be a seamless win.

As I mentioned above, Borg's Command and Colors game engine creates the mechanical backbone for the Battlelore customizable Wargame. Command and Colors is an easy to learn, yet extremely deep, simulation engine that combines quick play with tactical depth. The engine has been used in several successful, and fun, wargames, including: Battlecry (my favorite Civil War game), Command and Colors: Ancients (arguably the best "ancients" wargame ever as it appeals to both the veteran and the neophyte), and Memoir '44 (an excellent WWII wargame). This list includes some of the most successful wargames ever produced, and with good reason given the strength of the Command and Colors system. It is this system's brand that gives the name Battlelore the premium that it has.

Sadly, according to this interview, "The classic BattleLore game is based on Richard Borg’s Command and Colors game system, while Battles of Westeros is an entirely new engine, one that is significantly more involved than C&C and more in tune with FFG’s design principles."

How one can call a game a Battlelore game when it doesn't share a rules set is beyond me. It seems that Peterson is attempting to get the financial premium that the brand Battlelore brings, without bringing the play style that that premium promises. There are likely a couple of reasons for this.

First, as Peterson says, FFG wants a game that is more in tune with FFG's design principles. FFG games have their own brand preconceptions, and deserve a substantial premium on their own. Games like Descent, Doom, World of Warcraft, Runebound, and Middle Earth Quest share qualities and design philosophies. Wanting to produce a game that shares these philosophies and thus maintains the FFG brand is important to be sure. Given the strength of Tide of Iron, FFGs excellent customizable WWII wargame, one wonders why they didn't brand Battles of Westeros as a Tide of Iron game. This is especially true given the fact that the game is going to have significant differences from its related "brand" and will likely share more with Tide of Iron than Battlelore.

Second, Richard Borg owns the copyright on the Command and Colors system that underlies the Battlelore game. Even though FFG owns the right to produce Battlelore games, they likely didn't want to have to pay Borg for other products in a related line. The easiest way to avoid that is to create a new rules set while still leveraging the brand identity due to some stylistic similarities. Contrary to "gamer knowledge" it is likely that the mechanics of games can in fact be copyrighted and FFG is being smart in not attempting to lift the mechanics and move them into their own game in an attempt to cheat Borg out of his money. Better to create a new system than engage in legal battles. While I might criticize FFG for "misapplying" the Battlelore brand, I can praise them for respecting copyright.

As you might guess, it is my belief that the Battles of Westeros game will feel more like a fantasy version of Tide of Iron than a Westeros version of Battlelore, but I don't think that is a bad thing at all. Tide of Iron is a wonderful game that holds its own against Memoir '44 with regard to flexibility and customization. Though Tide of Iron is more Squad Leader Lite than Battlelore's evolution of We the People style card driven game play.

Regardless, I'll be certain to purchase the game when it comes available -- and this is given the fact that I have committed myself to severely restricting new game purchases this year.

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