Battlefield Report - March 18, 2010

3/18/2010 at 7:34 PM

 I know, I know, I'm not the same zen master of FPS warfare that Jim is.  However, I do like a good war every now and then, so I approached your regular Battlefield Reporter to swap columns with him.  He graciously agreed, and now I can share with you my thoughts on another board game, this time set in the combat-heavy Halo universe: the Halo Interactive Strategy Game.

Ever since we pulled Halo 3 out on a snow day last school year, our family has been transformed into Halo fanatics.  Halo Wars, ODST, a few action figures, and most recently Halo Legends have only served to invigorate our fervor.  It was with very little hesitation that we nabbed a copy of the Halo Interactive Strategy Game from the shelves of our local Toys R Us.  It was on clearance for $11, that's a no brainer!

As you can see from the picture, there's lots of Halo-themed plastic goodness in the box.  An impressive, but somewhat generic set of map pieces allows you to construct your own battlefield.  Fifteen miniatures, similar to the little plastic army men of youth, fight against one another in deadly combat.  The Covenant are represented by the Arbiter, two Elites, two Brutes, and three Grunts.  The UNSC forces include Master Chief, three other Spartan II soldiers, and three Marines.  While the little figures do have a "pew pew pew I shot your guy!" appeal, they fall far short of miniatures in other similar boardgames, such as Heroscape

Each type of character is represented by a card, which gives all the relevant stats for the unit.  Move shows the number of squares your character can travel in one turn.  Shield is the number of dice you roll on defense, while melee is the number of dice you roll in combat with an adjacent unit.  Strike is the ranged combat stat, and you roll a die for each point in strike for your character and the weapon, combined; for example, Master Chief rolls six dice to attack with his assault rifle.  Energy is your basic health/hit point value.  Once your unit's energy is depleted, he's goes back in the box until next time.  It's worth noting that in the normal game, energy is not used, so you have one hit KOs.

Notice the notches on the cards?  They aren't just for show.  At the beginning of the game, players take turns placing markers on the field.  One type, weapons, allows your unit to draw a card from the Weapon deck when landed on.  Halo cards are similar, and include bubble shields, gravity lifts, and even the dreaded Flood instant-death card, just to keep things interesting.  The Weapon and Halo cards fit right into the notches on the cards, keeping things nice and neat.

The "Interactive" part of the title comes from the included DVD.  Instead of rolling dice and drawing cards randomly, players can instead pop in the DVD to take care of all the randomization, as well as show a few brief clips from the games to illustrate the action.  After the first few tries, we abandoned the DVD method; it just took to long and besides, rolling all those dice yourself is just more fun.  The DVD also contains the game rules and a few different scenarios, including a few campaigns with different objectives than the standard slayer and capture the flag varieties.

After a crash course in the game rules, we sat down to play.  Unfortunately, there is no real co-op in the game.  It's strictly a versus affair.  However, with three of us, and only two sides to choose, the boys decided to co-op with each other and team up to take down the old man.  To the surprise of none, little brother picked Master Chief, so dad was stuck playing as the bad guys.   We decided to have the boys alternate turns, going once each per two moves of mine.  Since the official rules only allow for one character to act each turn, this worked out to be quite fair and reasonable. 

We ran into a bit of a snag when setting up the board.  It seems that the maps in the rulebook require more than one set to actually complete!  We adjusted it the best we could and got started.  After just a couple turns, my Arbiter and an Elite had nabbed improved weapons, and the other Elite had a Bubble Shield, which could avoid any ranged attack.  I was feeling pretty good about things, until my oldest son equipped a lowly Marine with a long range sniper rifle.  Since we were playing the normal version of the rules, the Marine ended up being the MVP of the game, one shotting my best dudes before they even got in range.  Eventually, a Brute stomped a hole in him, but the damage had already been done.

My youngest son was quite upset when Master Chief was defeated, so he took out his aggression on my last remaining Brute.  Left with three grunts, with no weapons left to speak of, I tried to keep my strategy as authentic to the Halo experience as possible: I ran away, fleeing to the cover of a chain link fence.  The three huddled grunts were only able to take out a single Marine before being reduced to a pile of goo.  The boys high fived, and we shook hands, laughing at the hilarious turn of events.  It was a fine first session, and we look forward to many more.

The Halo Interactive Strategy Game was a great bargain.  I'm not sure if I would have purchased it at the $50 retail price, but at anything less than $20, it's a steal.  As a board game conversion of a successful video game, it works pretty well.  There is indeed a bit of strategy and tactics to use in order to win, which was a nice change from the reflex-based skills that win online.  Best of all: no whiny 12 year old opponents with potty mouths, and no tea-bagging at all!

Unless you're into that sort of thing...

Thanks to BoardGameGeek for the use of a couple images!