First, a little history lesson.
Battles of Westeros is a board game released back in 2010 by Fantasy Flight Games. An adaptation of the BattleLore system to the world of George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels. It had a good handful of expansions over the next couple years before fading away. Late 2015, it was given its final farewell in the form of a clearance priced holiday sale burn-off. What killed it? Tough to say for sure. Bad timing, maybe, as the TV series hadn’t yet taken hold of the public quite as fully as it has now. Command and Colors fatigue is a possibility. I mean, how many adaptations of Richard Borg’s lovely little battle system do we really need? The BattleLore brand didn’t help either, as the fans of the old game were probably irritated about it haven’t been abandoned in favor of this setting. Then BattleLore second edition comes out, and Westeros exits stage left.
Still, it had a good run. Taken together, we’ve got three full factions and three supporting factions. Boxes and boxes of lovely minis, with something like fifty scenarios to play. Not to mention a pretty decent skirmish generating system.
But it wasn’t enough.
I’d picked up the game during the holiday sale and found that I quite enjoyed it. A large part of the reason for purchasing it was to get back into miniatures painting, as I’d given it up something like fifteen years ago and always felt a bit of a pang to take another whirl. I played a few scenarios, a few skirmishes, I painted dozens and dozens of minis, back aching and eyes squinted. I kept thinking, however, that I could do more with it. There is an embarrassment of riches inside these boxes, with hideous numbers of tokens and bits that hardly get used. Couldn’t one simply take those pieces and… well, find a use for them?
I knocked together a couple custom skirmish cards, but it still wasn’t what I wanted. I’ve always detested setting up scenarios in games like this, glancing back and forth from book to board to make sure these pieces and those are all just so. But the skirmishes felt weightless, too insubstantial. BoW is a fast and furious game, relatively speaking, and there’s little reason not to simply throw your men upon the blades of the enemy and hope for the best. That’s when it hit me: what I had here was unique suited for a campaign expansion. Piles of excess components, large numbers of units from multiple factions, a system already in place for creating customs skirmishes and a rich world and narrative just waiting to be brought to life.
The life-span of the game provided just enough material to fully enact the War of the Five Kings storyline from Martin’s books. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best part of the series, and it would be a delight to have a campaign game which replicated it. A Targaryen or Night’s Watch expansion, while fun, would have been extraneous. And without the Tullys, Clans, Baratheons and Brotherhood, the narrative would have suffered from excessive gaps. It was too perfect.
I’ve always loved campaign systems in board games, miniatures game in particular, and I’ve often flirted with the idea of designing them. This time I was going to do it for real though. I had everything I needed and more.
But how to go about it? The thing about designing a campaign add-on for an existing game is that you’re basically making a whole new game, but with a huge number of constraints. First, the campaign must be mechanically and thematically congruous with the existing gameplay. Second, the campaign must offer a deep and compelling experience without being so complex or involved that it distracts from the meat of the game. Third, and most important is this: the campaign must affect the individual battles in a meaningful way, and the battles must likewise affect the campaign in a meaningful way. The last consideration, an important one specific to fan-made expansions, is that the thing has to look good, and be relatively easy and affordable to produce at a level of quality which will come within spitting distance of the current game.
For the past eighteen months or so, I have been designing, tinkering, playtesting and prototyping. Now, as the final elements of the design slide neatly into place, the game is ready for release. All the relevant files will be uploaded into the wild, for you to use as you see fit. This is, after all, the final goal: that anybody out there who possess this fine game and has an interested in what I’ve made will be able to make and play it themselves with relatively minimal effort and expense.
I am very pleased, at long last, to present: Battles of Westeros: War of the Five Kings.