Battle for Biternia: Preview

What do you get when you mix classic pixel role-playing game map with a multiplayer battle game? Lots of fun, it turns out.  Today, Fairway takes a look at Battle for Biternia

Battle for Biternia is a two- to four-player fantasy, fighting game. It pits two teams of warriors against each other in a battle for control over Biternia’s crystals. I was provided a preview copy so art and components are likely to change for a production run.

Initial Impressions

  1. The board and map are reminiscent of classic, pixel role-playing games of my youth. You could almost imagine Link moving through the battle field.
  2. There is a good amount of variety in the types of characters your team can recruit. The drafting of the characters was almost as fun as the game itself.
  3. The core mechanic is a form of deck-building. The game cleverly uses classic level up mechanics to introduce new cards to your hand.
  4. The game encourages pretty long term strategy, but each turn itself is loaded with good amount of player choice.
  5. This game seems to be ideal as a duel, but can be played as teams too.

Game play

In Battle for Biternia, each player controls a team of heroes.  These heroes are trying to protect a crystal on their side of Biternia while trying to destroy their opponents’ crystal.

Biternia is represented by large map on a board. The map is divided into various spaces connected by paths.  The map of Biternia is color-coded to show each side’s territory.  Each side also has spaces for three towers and, at a location furthest from the other side, a crystal.  The object is to destroy a tower, then destroy a crystal on the other side of the board.  In the center is a kind of no-mans’ land in which players can “farm” for extra coins.

To begin, players take turns drafting heroes from a pool of twelve different heroes. Each hero is represented by a card and matching pawn that will be placed on the map. Each hero has a class (e.g., wizard, assassin, fighter, and the like) and a number of hit points. Each hero has a unique ability as well as a set of special powers.

For each hero, the player take the matching special power action cards. These special powers are added to a pool of basic action cards and become available when the hero levels up with one super power for a final level. The deck of basic action cards provide the bread and butter of game play: things like strike and defend.  All of these cards have different “attack” and “defense” values which are used when players do battle (described below).

Once all of the heroes have been selected, they’re placed on the board strategically and the deck of action cards shuffled.

The actual game consists of several rounds.  During each round, players will draw eight action cards, assign four of the actions to their heroes, move their heroes, evaluate the actions, and then clean up and start a new round. The way the game is ordered, players must anticipate their opponents moves and actions at the time they assign the four actions to their heroes. This occurs in secret (by playing the action cards face down) and simultaneously.

Once the actions are assigned, players alternate turns moving their heroes up to four total spaces. Heroes can individually move one space along any of the paths.

Once everyone has had a chance to move their heroes, players take turns performing actions. Players take turns revealing face down action cards until there are none left.  Most of the game is spent attacking the other players using these action cards.  Attacks are resolved by comparing attack values of action cards and any defense values of face up cards of their opponents — one thing to note, if a card provides defense (i.e., a shield value), it remains face up until that character takes an action next round.  If there’s more attack than defense, the attacked character then reduces hit points by the difference. Any hero that loses all of their hit points is placed in the discard pile.  The character will return later when the card is revealed.

For heroes that can’t attack (like when they’re alone), they can mine or rest.  Mining gives the player one gold (two if in one of the no-man’s land spaces). Resting increases hit points.

After all of the heroes have taken an action, the towers can also attack any heroes on their spaces following similar rules.

Finally, players collect a little gold which can then be spent to upgrade heroes on the board.  Each upgrade adds a special action card to the deck.  The game continues until someone destroys the other player’s crystal.

On the green

Battle for Biternia captures some of the mystique of old RPGs packaged in an easy to learn board game.

Art. In general, this game captures the style well: pixel art role playing game.  In particular, the characters and the map are all well done.  We wanted a little bit more from the action cards and other secondary components which felt less polished.

Easy to teach.  For players already familiar with other deck-building games, the game play will be familiar.  But even for those that aren’t, the basic mechanics of the game are pretty quick: draw cards, play a card per hero, move your heroes, and choose an action.

Battles resolve pretty easily too. Players had an easy time sizing up their opportunities. And since there’s no real luck, simple computation, there wasn’t disappointment about your plan not working.  Similarly, players advancing their heroes know an attack is likely.

Good amount of strategy.  The game’s strategy is a bit of a cross between chess and other dueling games. You have to plan your moves and plays while anticipating what your opponents will do.  We were pleased with how this all played out.

No elimination.  We like the fact that there’s no elimination.  Instead, a dead hero is really just stunned and removed from the game for a few rounds.

Diversity of heroes.  It was nice to see a wide range of heroes, hero types, and special powers. The designer did a good job balancing this out and providing a range of interesting teams.

Where it comes up short

Battle for Biternia isn’t without its faults.

Sitting on your heels. At times, we struggled to keep the game moving. It’s possible we misunderstood something, but one of the consequences of the way the game works, players can elect to literally do nothing that advances the end game. In fact, mining/farming for gold for extended periods of time seems to be a valid strategy both sides can deploy indefinitely.  It tended to extend the play time unnecessarily.

The no-man’s land in the middle provides some engagement as neither player wants the other to get extra coins, but it’s pretty thin. So thin that it really wasn’t clear from our plays that those extra coins actually mattered too much.  There was substantial risk in advancing unless you were prepared to fight.

Tracking.  There’s a lot of things to track: four heroes, crystal and towers.  The tracking of hit points and levels can get pretty fidgety. In some ways, this aspect felt like a traditional war game where units have so many things going on.

The tracking complexity is amplified when you realize that both players care: they care about hit points, they care about special powers, they care about likelihood of a card being in play, etc.  In our plays, we sometimes just ended up ignoring aspects of this to keep the game moving, but it might be a distraction for others.

Play time.  This length of this game definitely depends on the play styles of each player.  When we played aggressively (seeking out frequent combat), the game goes pretty quickly.  Breaking down a tower and through to the crystal does take quite a bit of effort.

In the hole

We really enjoyed Battle for Biternia. It provides an immersive world that feels a lot like what would happen if you mashed Zelda with Overwatch.  The card-based combat system is quick and easy to understand, and players are forced to think strategically about how to deploy those heroes into that combat.  This game definitely a fun addition to a game library.

Battle for Biternia is in the hole for a Par.

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