Previously, during the discussion about how to promote historical gaming, the issue of starter packs came up (See: Foundry Antics). I mentioned that GW was planning the release of ‘Battle of 5 Armies’ (GW BoFA webpage). This has happened by now, and I own a copy!
I will not go into a full review of the game, except to say that the rules are basically the same as Warmaster GW’s game of epic fantasy, the miniatures are 10mm and of very high quality, and that the game portrays the famous battle at the end of Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
What I would like to highlight is that this game does a very good job of selling a ‘Battle in a Box’. Everything for this particular battle, including rules, scenery and figures is in the box. Granted, the scenery consists of a number of cardboard pieces for the Running River, two plastic hills that can be clicked together into one big hill, and some ruins to represent Dale, the city that was ruined by Smaug. So in some sense it is minimalistic, but it is enough. The only thing that is still missing is that the miniatures come unpainted to make it fully a “Battle in a Box’, but I feel this will only be a matter of time.
In my view, I feel that GW has explored succesfully (on GW’s website the game is already out-of-stock) a new possibility of marketing miniature wargaming. By providing all playing pieces to put a well-known battle on your table, the beginning player has no need to buy seperate sets of miniatures, nor design his or her own scenarios. Of course, this was possible before, but most miniature games ‘in a box’ always have been very generic.
I feel this should work for historicals too. It should be possible to produce boxes with the correct figures and scenery and rules to portray a single, famous battle, whether it be Waterloo, Rorke’s Drift, OK Corral, Austerlitz, or the Raid on Zeebrugge. The magazine Miniature Wargames has starter packs available, but these are boxes of some figures + a back-issue of MW containing a ruleset + some cardboard buildings, only specifying a period and no set battle. Although this is a very worthwhile attempt, I think it misses the point. A good “Battle in a Box’ should focus on a single battle, and provide everything for that one battle, and nothing more (although the rulebook could contain some suggestions on how to expand it to other battles — which is also what GW has done with its Battle of 5 Armies, with additional figures being available).
I’m very enthusiastic about this approach, so I hope that GW will do more in these series, and that others will follow. The subtitle of Battle of 5 Armies is “Great Battles of Middle Earth”, so I hope that GW will produce more games along these lines.