Battlecrest is a head-to-head skirmish game where you use heroes to battle around a semi-randomized battlefield. The catch is, the game consists of 18 cards and fits in a wallet half the size of the one I carry around. Button Shy specializes in making wallet-sized games, and prior to Battlecrest, I’d never played one.
A video version of this review can be found on my Youtube Channel.
I was certainly skeptical going in. I couldn’t imagine how you could fit a meaningful combat game inside of 18 cards. Battlecrest is, however, the poster child of doing more with less. It packs in asymmetrical heroes, a randomized battlefield for you to move around in, and a way to track your health all within the cards and with no additional components.
What really caught me off guard was the fact that Battlecrest is not a simple game. It has a lot of interlocking mechanisms that make it a much heavier experience than what you would expect.
In this review, I’m evaluating the 18-card Battlecrest Base Game and two additional hero characters. The two additional heroes, Whispyr and Forge are included in the Imperator expansion, but it’s important to note that I had access to the heroes but not the full expansion.
|Gideon’s Bias||Battlecrest Information|
|Review Copy Used: Yes||Publisher: Button Shy|
|Number of Plays: 5+||Designers: Dustin Dobson, Milan Zivkovic|
|Player Counts Played: 2||Number of Players: 2 (1 to 4 with expansion)|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Head-to-Head Combat|
|Fan of Weight: Yes||Weight: Medium|
|Gaming Groups Thoughts: Liked it||Price: $12 ( Additional $12 for the expansion)|
Battlecrest consists of just a handful of cards and a nifty wallet to store them in. The cards feature nice artwork and iconography, and I particularly like how the artwork makes it obvious which card belongs to which hero. They all feel like extensions of that hero, and that’s nice. Six cards make up the terrain used for the battlefield, while the rest make up each hero and their respective action cards and a health counter.
The cards are very thin, but while the game does have you randomize the land cards, you aren’t required to shuffle anything traditionally, so they really shouldn’t be exposed to much wear and tear.
Each hero, including those in the base game, comes with an AI sheet for solo play. However, the rules and cards required for solo play are found in the expansion. I’m not a huge fan of base game components being unusable without an additional purchase.
Battlecrest comes with two separate rule sheets, and they are laid out in a hodgepodge of mechanisms. Learning Battlecrest is not an intuitive experience. The rules pretty much load you with all of the game’s information upfront and expects you to remember it all. Battlecrest uses some unusual concepts due to everything being packed into a small number of cards, so the lack of clarity mashed between the two sheets of rules is frustrating.
Battlecrest is clever in how it uses its limited components to make for a battle game with plenty of decision space. The battlefield always has the same layout, but the placement of the land cards themselves is random. Each hero and their minions start at opposite ends of the battlefield, and the rest of the cards form their action row.
Health is tracked by following its placement above the action row, moving it to the right with each damage sustained until it flips to the wounded side, resetting its position, and doing so again. Each turn players must take two actions between moving around the battlefield, activating, priming, or refocusing action cards,
What makes Battlecrest shine is just how many different gears turn within that simple framework. The land itself is rife with abilities and triggers. They range from providing extra attack distance or damage to hazards that damage you when crossing onto the side it’s located. Some effects cause the card to flip after they are used, with the back side having a different layout. Some lands have shortcuts, allowing you to move through them in specific ways.
Your action cards also have two sides, meaning your hero has twice as many abilities as they appear to have at first glance. Plus, There’s an important trick to the whole thing, crests.
Every action card has one of three crests specific to your character. Whenever you use an ability, you exhaust the card by turning it sideways. This activates its crest. Crests amplify other abilities. Mutiny’s Dead Reckoning, for example, deals damage equal to 2+ every yellow crest they have active. Crest manipulation combines with other aspects of the action row and land cards to make for a satisfying decision space.
The action cards are used for several things at once. Your movement speed equals the sum of the movement values among all your unexhausted action cards. The cards make up your ability to attack other heroes. They have a defense value you can use to defend against damage by exhausting them, and of course, the crests.
Battlecrest is all about manipulating your cards, position on the battlefield, and land bonuses to combo up strong attacks while defending yourself. It doesn’t always have to be about big damage numbers. You could use a “force” ability to move your enemy into hazards, or away from you, for example. Each attack has a range between melee, medium and long ranges. You don’t have to defend if they can’t hit you in the first place!
The refocus action readies your cards but also flips any that were exhausted. You don’t have to wait until all your action cards are exhausted to refocus them, so you can end up with various combinations of action cards active at any given time.
You can also use a “prime” action to exhaust a card to activate its crest without using its ability. This allows you to set up combos even if you aren’t in range to use an attack.
Finally, some action cards have a star. When a card with a star is used, it essentially allows you to use a second ability that is either printed on your hero or a land ability you’re touching. This can set up huge power plays when timed right, or just grant you extra utility, such as moving by using a lands “march” ability.
The action cards serving multiple purposes, from movement speed to defense, attacking, and crests make each hero uniquely versatile, as they all have different action cards. Some even have a minion they can command around alongside them. Every turn gives you plenty to think about as you almost always have a wide choice of potential moves you can make.
There are no random values when it comes to attacking, it’s all deterministic. Each player always knows the exact number coming at them, and what the other player can defend with.
The sheer number of decisions you can make and the lack of randomness during gameplay make Battlecrest a very intense chess match of plays and counter-plays. Doing well means planning in advance in regards to which cards to exhaust and what crests you need, in addition to trying to predict and counter what the other player might do.
Combat isn’t simply about moving into range and attacking. You have to factor in how much movement speed you will need, which crests you want active or if you need to leave cards up for defense, and which ones to flip. All while also considering the various elements of the terrain and how you can use them. For a game that fits in your pocket, there is a deceptive amount of depth to its systems, and it works really well.
It honestly reminds me of a hero shooter video game, where heroes dart around an arena and use abilities that go on cooldown. Battlecrest resonates with the same type of atmosphere.
It takes some time to wrap your head around the game’s mechanisms. There is a lot of planning involved with the action cards, and some attacks deal a lot of damage, so a bad move can definitely cost you if an opponent capitalizes on it. I don’t view its complexity as a bad thing though. There aren’t a lot of games with deep gameplay you can fit inside your pocket, least of all a skirmish game. That makes Battlecrest special.
An old PlayStation 2 video game called Yu-Gi-Oh: The Duelists of the Roses made me interested in the concept of cards that moved around a battlefield as opposed to miniatures. It’s a mechanism that’s not seen all that often in the tabletop space, and it’s what really makes Battlecrest stand out to me.
Having the freedom to not only move around the environment but utilize different bonuses from the land cards add a dimension to the gameplay that many dueling games, especially card-based ones, lack.
Battlecrest is a lot of fun, and shockingly more complex than games significantly larger than it. It does suffer from the same lifestyle issue many of these games face. Pitting the same characters against each other gets repetitive fast, so the game passively encourages you to purchase more. One advantage that Battlecrest has over similar games is the price. $12 for two heroes makes the game significantly easier on the wallet to expand your roster.
With the Imperator Expansion. You can play up to four players, and while I didn’t get a chance to test it myself, the rules are almost entirely unchanged, and I believe it would work great. I was sent the heroes that are included in the expansion, but not the solo cards, so I can’t comment on the solo mode. I do like the idea of a solo game that fits in your pocket, however.
The obtuse rule sheets aside, Battlecrest is a great game and a fine example of not judging a book by its cover. Its diminutive size makes it seem like it would be a shallow game with limited playability. However, that simply isn’t the case. Battlecrest is a cerebral skirmish with a tactical depth that punches well above its own literal weight.
Interested in the card holders I use in my photos? They are from InfinitionsTabletop on Etsy
Pick Up Battlecrest from These Stores
- A deep skirmish game with unique mechanisms
- Moving around a battlefield adds another dimension of depth to the gameplay
- The multifaceted action cards make the game a cerebral tactical experience
- Fast set up and tear down, the game fits in a bite-sized wallet
- Inexpensive price
- The two rules sheet are obtuse, convoluted, and hard to decipher
- While the base game comes with solo sheets for the characters, you can’t play solo without the expansion
- Playing the same characters against each other can get repetitive without purchasing additional ones