Truth be told, I am a 20th century or modern-era wargamer. Most of the wargames in my collection are World War II or later. Knowing that factoid it would seem that Table Battles (Hollandspiele, 2017) should not interest me since the battles range from The Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 to The Battle of Brooklyn Heights in 1776. More importantly, the publisher’s blurb makes Table Battles not even really come across as a wargame:
Here is something new and exciting, something completely unlike any other game on your table. Table Battles is a thinky filler, a light dice game that nevertheless will have you scratching your chin and agonizing over your decisions. It reduces armed conflict to its essentials, to the absolute universal truths behind all battles: the threat of force and its application. It’s about leverage, about feints and counterfeints, threats and counterthreats, about creating openings and then going for the jugular, about leaving openings and springing a trap.
I picked up Table Battles in the 2018 Hollandays Sale and I am very glad I did. What designer Tom Russell claims to be a simple “thinky filler” and “light dice game” is actually a very fun, yet thematic, wargame of older battles that looks good on the table, is easy to learn and play, delivers a believable history of the battle, and makes you think really hard!
To an old hex & counter grognard like myself, Table Battles appears heretical. I mean, it uses cards for formations, little wooden sticks for unit strength, and to attack you place dice on those Formation Cards instead of rolling them against a Combat Results Table. It doesn’t even use a map – you literally play on your tabletop. This os not a wargame, but a new-age wargame-Eurogame (weuro?).
The rules for Table Battles take up a whole four-pages of double-column type. The rules are easy to learn; most of what is needed is already on the cards. The rule book explains the Flow of Play (or Sequence of Play to this old grognard) and the definitions of what the iconography or text on the cards mean. The game can literally be taught in five minutes or less. Each game takes 20 minutes – or less – to play.
Mechanically, Table Battles has two parts each turn. In the Action Phase, a single unit (one Formation Card) can Attack. This might cause an automatic Reaction. Some units can take a special action, such as Bombard or Retire. For any formation to do anything, though, it needs to “be readied” with dice.
The “light dice game” is actually the heart of the game. Each side has six dice. In the Roll Phase players roll dice and can add them to Formation Cards. Each Formation Card has a Dice Area that show what dice can be added. Players can only add dice to one Formation Card in each wing (usually one or two wings).
As that old grognard I was looking for combat ratings and it took me a while to parse what the Dice Area means. It is truly amazing how designer Tom Russell uses the Dice Area to show how capable different units are. In Marston Moor, Cromwell can use Any dice to load up, but other units (often artillery) need a “Straight 4” – or four dice showing sequential numbers – to become readied. Obviously, this means it is much easier to get Cromwell ready while the artillery takes longer!
Once the unit is readied it can attack, but only certain other units. Once a unit is reduced (losses all their sticks-of-strength) it becomes Routed. When units Rout the player losses one of their precious Morale Cubes to the other player. If a player losses all their Morale Cubes, or enough of the enemy units have Routed that they do not have a formation able to attack any of your units, that player wins. Simple. Direct.
If one is looking for in depth analysis of warfare in this era then Table Battles will disappoint. However, if one is looking for a simple look at the units involved, their relative strengths and weaknesses, and a somewhat high-level take on a battle, then Table Battles will more than suffice.
Like the historical Battle of Marston Moor my game resulted a Royalist defeat. Although my game ended pretty much as history did, I also see great replay potential in each game. Just because the battle goes one way does not mean it will always go the same, if for no other reason than the Dice Gods will play havoc with the rolls in the next game.
Hollandspiele has two expansions for Table Battles for sale, Table Battles Expansion No. 1: War of the Roses and Table Battles Expansion No. 2: Age of Alexander. If you have the inclination, the base game and expansions are also available as print-n-play through WargameVault.com. Tom is also very active on the BoardGameGeek forums for Table Battles and questions are usually answered very quickly.
Although designer Tom Russell likes to call Table Battles a light-thinky-filler-dice game he actually has designed a very simple, yet elegant, small waro/weuro that challenges players to focus on the fundamentals of combat. Although some might call the dice mechanic too swingy, it actually fairly represents the fog of war and reflects the different efforts it takes to get units into battle. Yes, Table Battles uses dice. Yes, Table Battles plays in as short “filler” amount of time. But Table Battles is very “thinky” and a legitimately challenging wargame for grognards old and new.