April 16, 2018 by brennon
Who remembers Redwall? If you don’t, it was a fantastic book series by Brian Jacques which followed the exploits of characters like Martin The Warrior, anthropomorphised animals who went on fantastical adventures and battled against all sorts of scary odds.
Well, Burrows & Badgers by Oathsworn Miniatures is a skirmish wargame which evokes the feeling that you had back in the day reading Redwall and mixes it in with all of the best parts of those legacy campaign games you’ve been playing over the years.
The Core Of Burrows & Badgers
It makes sense to give you a broad overview of the game and it’s concepts before we dive into anything else. Burrows & Badgers has you playing as animal adventurers, be they good or evil, heading out into the world of Northymbra and trying to stake a claim on this fantasy world.
There is a nice bit of background at the start of the book which helps you sow the seeds for your own adventures. The King, Redwulf Othyr, has not been seen for two years and his son rules in his place. The machinations behind the scenes point to many culprits, or there could indeed be a simple answer with no malice behind it at all. It’s up to you to tell those stories yourself…
Either way, you play as Royalists who owe their allegiance to the crown, Rogues who travel the roadways of the kingdom looking for anyway to make their way in the world through raiding and banditry, Freebeasts who don’t ally themselves with the King’s rule and are mercenary by nature, or the Wildbeasts who live out in the wilderness of Northymbra and would be considered ‘uncivilised’ by many.
Once you have allied yourself with one of these ways of life you will build your warband of heroes from a myriad of choices, arm and equip them for their adventures and then play through narrative-driven scenarios which will then see you tell the story of your characters.
Some may die, others may be gravely wounded. At times your characters will perform daring feats and escape with all the glory (and gold!). Burrows & Badgers is about being able to tell a story and weave a narrative on the tabletop, getting to know your handful of miniatures and have those as tales for the campfire (real or miniature!) in years to come.
Since we’ve been talking about warbands we should probably go into how they come to be! When you start off you declare which of those allegiances you’re going to fall under…
Royalists – Rogues – Freebeasts – Wildbeasts
Each of them has their own benefits and a special rule which makes them unique. For example, the Wildbeasts are Attuned To The Land which allows them to move through difficult terrain without penalty. Royalists, on the other hand, get Expert Training since they fight for the Crown, increasing their martial prowess.
At the beginning of a campaign, this helps you decide on the direction you want to take your warband and might also dictate which animals join your employ.
Each allegiance will also get themselves a Den which works as your base of operations throughout the campaign. This is something that might inform your choice of terrain during games and have you tinkering around with all sorts. These can also be upgraded throughout a campaign which is neat, giving them a character all of their own.
After you’ve chosen your allegiance you can start filling out your warband with animals. The range of creatures available to you starts with those as small as Mice and Dormice and goes all the way up to Wildcats, Foxes, Ravens, and even exotic animals like Armadillos and Platypus!
You will choose how to arm them from an extensive armoury as well as a massive list of additional equipment. This was possibly the best bit of the warband creation process for me as it was great looking through all the items and deciding how to add a bit more spice to my characters.
For example, I wanted my Mouse to have access to some deadly Bodkin and Broadhead arrows so he could deal with whatever situations came his way. Everything has a use here which is nice, especially when you delve into some of the scenarios a bit more.
As with many other campaign games, you’ll then total up the rating for your warband and then take to the tabletop to play through some scenarios and see if the fates like you!
I don’t want to bore people too much with numbers as I always believe that it’s better to explain the feeling of a game rather than the ins and outs of the mechanics but we have to do a bit of that here!
Each character has statistics for Movement, Strike, Block, Ranged, Nimbleness, Concealment, Awareness, Fortitude and Presence.
Burrows & Badgers uses the whole gambit of dice to determine scores from a d4 all the way up to a d12. When you fight you roll off between the two appropriate skills (adding modifiers for weapons and such) and the highest number wins.
For example, in combat, the aggressor uses their Strike value against your Block. In ranged combat, it falls to Ranged coming up against Nimbleness as you dodge out of the way of oncoming missiles.
Your standard roll-offs are going to be focused on combat and damage is then calculated by the difference between the two scores. You suffer wounds equal to the difference and mark it down on your warband sheet.
This brings me to a couple of interesting points about Burrows & Badgers. The game can be very deadly! Every hit matters and you will have to really think about who your characters are fighting against and how you can get the advantage over your opponent.
I very quickly learned that my small warband of two Badgers and two Mice had to be very careful about how it approached the enemy as while powerful, they could be outmanoeuvred by other warbands very easily. Also, raging badgers are a lot of fun!
Additionally, you also have what they call Perfect Rolls. When you roll the highest value on a dice you add a standard +7 to the result. If you’re a cunning fox you’ll have noted that this means even though you might have a lower dice in a certain stat you have a higher chance of rolling that Perfect and overcoming your enemy!
I really like this as it means that things favour the underdog (quite an apt pun) and while unlikely, you can have moments where a poor little Mouse can overcome deadly creatures twice their size!
As well as fighting you can do all manner of other things during your turn. You can Sprint around, Cast Spells, Search for hidden objects and Hide as well.
The world of Burrows & Badgers has some fascinating mechanics for spells. You can always cast spells from a number of different schools, depending on what you’ve chosen for your mage/witch/warlock. However, if you have brought the appropriate ingredients you can automatically cast these spells OR activate additional benefits. It’s a neat system and again feeds into this idea of there being more narrative behind your actions.
At its heart, the gameplay for Burrows & Badgers is simple to learn and hard to master as you get used to your different strengths and weaknesses. The wealth of different races in the game means that every time someone makes a warband they are approaching things from a different angle.
Games are fun, fast-paced and full of very cinematic moments as you see your characters clashing. We’ve had some really fun last stands, valiant and heroic battles against stronger enemies and also a lot of fun too! Everything you do in Burrows & Badgers helps to reinforce that story you tell afterwards.
Scenarios & Secrets!
Games of Burrows & Badgers are played out on tables that range from 2×2 all the way up to 4×4. The designers actually recommend the idea of a 2×4 table as it means that depending on deployment you’ll find yourself playing utterly different games.
The scenarios range the gambit from simple clashes between warbands all the way up to something a bit more exotic like Witch Hunt where you’re both against a deadly spellcaster. If you’ve played the likes of Mordheim or Frostgrave, you’ll be familiar with the scenarios on offer.
One of the coolest additions to the mix for scenarios though is Secondary Objectives. This means that even if a particular scenario doesn’t work for you, you always have the chance to come out of it with something else as a reward!
This Secondary Objective is secret from your opponent too so you could be doing all sorts behind the scenes to throw them off the scent!
Once again, this helps reinforce the narrative element of the game and is a big improvement in the final rules over the ones we’ve been playing for the past year or so.
After games, you’ll go through all of the standard things you do with campaign games. You’ll roll for injuries and death, spend your experience, pay upkeep for those in your employ, hire new recruits and do some trading.
Additionally, you have another step in the process in Burrows & Badgers. You have Off Duty where you can send a member of your warband wandering to see what they can find. It once again tells a little bit of a story and might help you not only gain some benefits but also help you plan out how you might expand things in later games.
When your warband members get enough experience they will also upgrade their skills. There are a LOT of skills to choose from in Burrows & Badgers and while many are about being effective in combat some are helpful beyond that like Freeze which means if you haven’t moved you cannot be spotted by your foes. Perfect for an ambush…
I will talk about my Badger as an example. He has Furious Charge meaning that he gets a bonus to his Strike when he charges a certain distance AND he combines this with Berserk meaning that as he gets damaged there is a chance he can go off in a wild rage. Immediately you’ve got the built-in character for your animals!
By comparison, my Mouse who I mentioned before has Eagle Eyes and he can spot enemies further away than normal. While one of my heroes charges off into combat the other is more adept at sticking to the shadows and striking from afar.
There are LOADS of skills to choose from as I mentioned before and the ways you can mould and adapt your force to suit your playstyle go beyond what I can explain in this review.
Why Should I Play Burrows & Badgers?
The big question then. Well, for me I think the overriding answer lies close to what we were talking about at the start of this article. It reminds me of my childhood reading Redwall books. More than anything, that is what drives this into the position of ‘must play’.
It works exceptionally well for big kids like me who want to experience that warmth and escapism of their youth and I have a feeling that the aesthetic of the game, which we’ll talk about later, will also appeal to them. It could very easily be your kid’s first skirmish wargame.
Additionally, the mechanics and the way they’ve been put together favour those who want to not only have fun but also delve into a system which reinforces the narrative rather than divorcing yourself from it. Yes, there’s maths there, but the game is more than just the numbers and offers you up so many opportunities to tell an interesting story rather than just bashing models together.
Burrows & Badgers also distinguishes itself from other games of its ilk by virtue of the models and that aesthetic we mentioned. You get to paint some awesome animal adventurers, all sculpted by the wonderful team at Oathsworn Miniatures. They are so packed with character and while the game is, at its heart, a Fantasy one, it stands out when you see a table covered in birds and other wild animals.
Honestly, I’ve had some of the best times painting miniatures for this game and since the buy-in for this is so low, just a handful of models, you’ll find yourself ready to play very quickly.
This isn’t to say that the game is perfect. Some combinations of animals are just more powerful than others and Spells can be overpowered at times but that’s the nature of having such a wide variety of creatures at your fingertips. Thankfully Michael Lovejoy did a lot to remedy this in the final version of the rules however and while I have yet to really delve deep into the new rules myself it stands from a few games things are looking a lot more solid.
The classic thorn in the side of games like this also exist. As well as games try to bridge the gap between warbands of lower ratings and those that have been winning game after game – you will still find a gulf opening, albeit a smaller one in Burrows & Badgers.
As long as you’re playing the game with like-minded people who aren’t there to break the game but instead have fun you’ll be safe – choose your campaign chums wisely!
When it comes down to it though and to end on a positive, Burrows & Badgers is familiar enough to appeal to those who like Mordheim, Frostgrave and other campaign games of their ilk, but also new and interesting enough, with its own twists and characterful flourishes, to be worth your time and attention.
Let me know if you’ve played Burrows & Badgers and if so what you thought of the game.
Drop your comments below!
"Games are fun, fast-paced and full of very cinematic moments as you see your characters clashing..."
"It reminds me of my childhood reading Redwall books..."