Battle Masters

Andy Skinner ( writes:

Is it worth mentioning that this game can sometimes be found for $10 at KayBee stores?

What You Think

IceMan (
Battle Masters rules! I love the wonderful miniatures, and the game is easy to play. Novices and professionals alike can enjoy a game (or twenty!) of Battle Masters. Nobody has been able to defeat me and my humans because of my ability to use strategy, wherein intelligence is an advantage. I love it.
Andy Skinner (
I bought a miniatures game. I wanted one with figures, and was thinking of Warhammer or Fantasy Warriors. But they both seem to come with fairly homogenous armies, and I thought it would be more fun to have some variety without having to buy lots of figures. So I got (don't laugh) Battle Masters, by Milton Bradley. It took about 4 hours to get the plastic pieces off the sprues, put on decals (I'm really bad at that, especially getting decal flags to fold up correctly), and put them on stands. But it was fun to play, the armies are interesting, and it was very simple. The mechanics were simple and fun.

There are two armies, the Empire (human) and Chaos. It is funny that the instruction booklet describes everything from the Empire's view, even though one of the players plays the "bad guys." Most stands have 5 figures on them, cavalry had 3, and a cannon and an ogre each had one. Empire has some regular soldiers, archers, crossbowmen, knights, lords (tougher knights), and a cannon. Chaos has goblins, orcs, wolf riders, beastmen, chaos warriors, chaos champions, archers, and an ogre. The battle field is a 4' x 4' plastic mat with large hexes -- each about the size of a base, which was about 8cm by 6cm. There are terrain features on the map, and some extra cardboard features, a tower, and some hedges.

Movement is done by a deck of cards. Each cards shows some units from one army or the other, and both armies' cards are shuffled together. Faster units are shown on more cards (fastest shown on 14 cards, slowest (cannon) on 4, out of 59 card deck). You pick up the top card, and all the units shown get to move and/or attack. Missile troops (archers both sides, crossbows, and cannon) can either move or shoot on their turn. Other troops can optionally move and then optionally attack. There are some special cards, such as one that lets wolf riders move twice, or knights charge (+1 to attack if they move and then attack). Some terrain features provide bonuses. Combat is done by rolling some number (shown on the unit's base, possibly modified) of special dice: 3 skulls, 2 blanks, 1 shield on each die. You do one "hit" (I wish they wouldn't use that terminology) for each skull rolled. The other guy rolls some number of dice and subtracts one "hit" for each shield rolled. Shields are harder to roll, of course. Whenever a unit has a "hit" against it, a skull token is put on its base. For all units except the ogre, 3 hits eliminates the unit.

Each army has one special piece with special rules, and both can be used whenever they come up on a card, like the other units. The Chaos army's ogre champion has 6 special cards that are kept separately. Whenever the ogre comes up on the main deck, the ogre cards are shuffled and drawn one at a time. 3 say "Ogre moves", 3 say "Ogre attacks". So if the situation works out right, the ogre could attack 3 times and move 3 times in one turn. For every hit against the ogre, it gets to draw one less card. It can sustain 6 hits.

The Empire has a cannon. You place a target marker on the unit you are shooting at, and then shuffle the special cannon markers. You put them out one at a time on a path from the cannon to the target. There are several markers showing the cannon ball whizzing through the air, a few less showing it bounce, and one or two showing an explosion. If you make it all the way from the cannon to the target without an explosion, you hit the target. If a bounce shows up on the way, any unit there sustains one hit. If the explosion shows up on the way, or if the cannon ball reaches the target, the unit there is eliminated. If the explosion is the first cannon marker put down (in a hex adjacent to the cannon), you shuffle and draw again, and apply the result (nothing, one hit, or explosion) to the cannon. Using the cannon isn't very realistic, but it is fun. I never hit anything with it when we played, but it was fun. I should have moved it up closer first.

My wife and I played one Saturday while my son was sleeping. She chose the Chaos army, which has 14 units (the Empire army has 11). The Empire won pretty handily, I only lost 3 units. The game is played until one side is completely destroyed--it was funny, because she was left with one unit of wounded goblins, and managed to hold out for a bit across a fortified ditch. But the battle was definitely decided by my cavalry. The empire has 3 units of knights, and one of lords. They are fast (show up in lots of cards), and have high combat ratings (4 for knights, 5 for lords). They pretty much destroyed her army with minor support from the rest of my army, since her champions were destroyed fairly early, and the ogre only got to go twice before being killed (it's a lot of fun to roll 4 skulls! :-).

She wants to take the Chaos army again, so we can see if we learned anything about tactics. I think she had problems with units being behind others and not being able to move (maybe use columns of units). I did well by having missile units nearer to the tower (first unit there takes it, and has to be destroyed (hard to do with penalties for the attacker and bonuses for the one on the tower) to reclaim it) and my cavalry where it could get to her army quickly. I planned the tower part, and only realized the strength of the cavalry later. I think she'd be better by trying to get more units around the knights, to get more attacks -- even goblins can whittle down the knights with those attack-oriented dice.

The figures and theme are obviously connected with Warhammer, about which I only know a little. I think some people buy the game as a source for lots of figures, especially if they can get it for $10.

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Optional Movement Ideas
Andy Skinner ( writes:

The card selection in Battle Masters in effect assigns speed to troop types by the number of times they show up on cards in the deck. If you count the number of times any particular troop type shows up in the deck, you can assign it a speed. (The Ogre is a special case because it can [potentially] move 3 times on its turn. The Wolf Riders are a special case because some cards let them move twice.)

If you like games where each piece moves some number of distance units (in this case, hexes), you can let each troop type move that speed. We divided the speeds by two so they didn't move over too much of the board each turn. Round according to what you think about the troop type. We had each piece move and then fight. The game includes yellow markers that represent a veteran unit, but we used them to mark which troop units had already moved. On the first turn, you marked a unit as having moved by putting the marker on it. All units had to move before a unit could be moved again. On the next turn, units were marked by removing the marker. You just have to remember which way you're going.

I think that next time, we'll have one side move all pieces and then fight, rather than having each piece fight after it moved. The battle seemed too much like a lot of individuals. I haven't decided whether both sides should move before melee combat, or whether combat should happen after each side moves.

We also used two battle mats placed side-by-side on our ping-pong table. Pieces move farther faster this way.

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Last Updates
6 April 1999comments by IceMan
13 February 1997reorganized
2 December 1996new email for Skinner
21 June 1996reorganized
24 April 1996reformatted
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