About two years ago on the PC gaming front, Electronic Arts (EA) released the videogame Battlefield 4 on the market. It came mostly in direct competition with the ever-popular Call of Duty franchise at the time. I’ve been a PC gamer at heart for a long while, but this is a boardgame and role-playing game website, so I’ll do my best to skirt around that mindless nerdrage and instead focus on something that came out around the exact same time as the BF4 release: Risk Battlefield Rogue.
On the surface, a gamer would be forgiven for mistaking this game as a blatant piece of piggy-back marketing. And that gamer, for the most part, would be absolutely correct. This game has very little in common with its boardgame namesake, Risk, to which I’m rather partial given that (aside maybe from Monopoly) Risk was probably the very first bona-fide board game I played with my father that had tactics stretching beyond Chutes and Ladders.
Given these reasons, I’m sure most would forgive me if I approached this game with a roll of my eyes while thinking, Good God, Hasbro, what have you done?!
So. Risk Battlefield Rogue. Now that you can find it for eight bucks on Amazon or in the budget bin at your local Target, is it any good whatsoever? Or should it be left in the Budget Bucket?
Let’s find out!
At its simpliest level, Battlefield Rogue is a squad-based terrain-control game. The board itself is separated into multiple cardboard tiles, each of which is divided into smaller zones. These tiles can be arranged in a variety of ways, offering some nice replay value and the chance to create custom scenarios. Infantry units are nicely-detailed plastic Army Men figures (though the chosen colors are odd. Orange and gray? Really?) Advanced rules incorporate dogfighting and tank warfare, though these units are unfortunately represented by cardboard punchouts instead of plastic figures.
So how does it play?
The very first game you will play will use the “Boot Camp” ruleset, which completely ignores tanks and aircraft rules, Commander tokens and special abilities, as well as more than half the deck of cards. Instead, each player is given a 4-man unit of soldiers, a few respawn and some attack cards, and a mission objective.
I played the two-player Boot Camp variant the first time through, which required my unit of dudes to cross the tetroid-shaped map toward the shipping docks. My opponent, on the other hand, was tasked only with hunting my unit down. Simple enough.
Movement is vaguely remeniscent of Risk. Units move in four-man groups from only one territory to another. You don’t have to take everyone with you, but those that leave must arrive at the same place. Units can move from any zone in a tile to any other zone, provided the path they take isn’t blocked by an enemy unit. Or units can jump from one tile to an adjacent zone in the next tile under the same condition, which sets up some interesting scenarios when attempting to corral enemy units or hold a battle line.
Combat is simple enough. Units from one territory may attack an adjacent one, similar to the game’s namesake. The game comes with several custom dice (okay, let’s be honest – they’re blank dice that you stick shield and attack stickers to) that signify damage dealt or damage soaked. Upgrading dice gives you a higher likelihood of dealing damage or, if you’re defending, the chance to inflict some damage back on your attacker. That way attacking never 100 percent risk free.
(Eh? Eh…!? See what I did there? No? Oh. Ahem… moving on…)
Rolling a hit icon on attack allows you to wound one enemy unit (removing it from the board), while rolling a shield icon on defense lets you soak that damage. Simple enough, and it lets the turns alternate rather quickly to keep the game moving.
The two-player boot camp scenario will take you about thirty minutes, and has some moderate entertainment value. It’s functional enough to teach the rules before dipping your toe into a more complex game mode. But after the first time through, you’ll never play it again. Just not enough in basic mode to hold a gamer’s interest.
The next logical step, therefore, becomes Intermediate mode. This adds more cards to the decks used, allows for unit spawns, and introduces tanks to the game. Leadership cards can be drawn regularly, resulting in more armed dudes under your command.
…and there Battlefield Rogue quickly falls apart.
It’s not obvious, at first. The game will start and you’ll find yourself in control of way more units than the first game by turn two. Leadership cards seem to be under no restrictions as to how often or when they can be played, so I found no reason not to flood my starting zone with as many units as I could right at the beginning. Sure, I can only move 4 at a time, but options are good, and since Leadership cards can’t be reused in the game – ever – then better I use them than my opponent.
The first few turns in Intermediate mode become an arms race.
This might be forgivable. Bigger battles can be more fun. But the introduction of tanks into the mix causes an issue that, for me, broke the game.
Tanks automatically upgrade attacking or defending dice. This means that by having just one tank in a squad, you can deliver or block more damage instantly. In addition, another of the special abilities for tanks is the ability to soak damage if a friendly engineer is present. These two feats, combined, made for a nasty situation in the game that reared its ugly head when I found myself defending an entrenched location.
Tanks with engineers are really good at soaking damage. So it’s silly not to have them on your front lines. Now you have heavy units soaking damage on defense on both sides. Attackers may only roll 3 dice, so at most in this game you can deliver 6 wounds. At best. More likely than not, an attacker will be happy with 3 wounds delivered per attack. A nice, fifty-percent average.
One tank will soak 1 wound right off the bat with a friendly engineer. But tanks also upgrade defense dice, making it more and more likely that you can soak additional wounds. Add more upgraded dice by moving into a space with a ‘cover’ icon.
Yeah. You can see where this is going.
All of the games I played at Intermediate level quickly became bogged down in stalemates. Attackers could never do enough damage fast enough to whittle away defender positions before reinforcements arrived. The game simply came down to rolling dice, occasionally reinforced by an attack card or two that gave buffs. But then the defender answers with a Leadership card that spawned more units, and yeah. The battle got old real fast.
Sure, we could wait around until the Leadership deck has been burnt through. Then it comes down to who stockpiled the most units to throw at the meat grinder. Out-maneuvering your opponent is a slow and clunky thing in this game, given the 4-man unit movement restriction per turn. So really, the entire game boils down to one- or two-front battles at best. Each of which quickly turns into a quagmire of damage soaking buffs.
Risk Battlefield Rogue has some clever ideas. For a knock-off product that accompanied a PC gaming release, it tried. It honestly did. And maybe Expert mode, which introduced air strikes, could redeem this game.
However, given the cheap nature of the pieces and tendency for games to become mired in stalemates, I find it difficult to recommend adding this game to your regular gaming rotation. I just didn’t have the patience for soldiering my way through Intermediate mode, and Beginner mode isn’t worth replaying after your first runthrough.
I wanted to like this one. I did. But I got bored each time I played, and that right there is a killer for this game.
- Tile-based, rearrangeable gameboard allows for different scenarios each play-through
- Unit spawn mechanic very reminiscent of spawning in a video game
- Some clever mechanics for a knock-off brand game
- Cheap building materials. Cardboard cutouts for tanks? Lame.
- Damage soak ability for tanks results in many games becoming mired in a stalemate
- Card spawn mechanic results in an arms-race mentality early on
- Leave it in the bucket