As regular readers will know – particularly those of you who read the blog over the Christmas period – I’m a big fan of board games, especially those that come in small packages with playing time to match. Little Battle is another very small game with very few components – suitable for players of all ages – that has a decent amount of depth despite its size and target audience.
It’s unusual, mechanically, for a game aimed at younger players. There’s a lot of bluffing and choices to be made that are initially difficult to get your head around – even as an adult – and the rules go about things in a bit of a backward way. They do a good job of explaining what you do on a turn, but not why you’re doing it or what you should choose to do.
Rules issues aside, once you get the hang of things it’s a very satisfying game. Players are animal pirates, competing to open treasure chests on a beach. There are two distinct phases in the game: building your crew and then opening treasure chests, with the player who collects the most treasure winning the game.
Crew member cards display an animal and a point value. The treasure chests are colour coded; only the animal matching the chest’s colour can open it (with special rules for a few of the cards, though these special cards are optional).
Each player is dealt a hand of crew cards, but the twist is that – rather than this being their crew – they must pick one of the cards to keep (placing it face down in their ship) and then pass the rest of their cards to the left. Then they pick a new crew member from the hand that’s been passed to them and repeat the process until all cards have been distributed in this way.
Then it’s onto the second phase; at the beginning of the game, the treasure chests are shuffled and dealt into two piles on the table and – during this phase – players simultaneously play a crew member next to the chest of their choice.
If they’re the only player with a crew member next to the chest, it’s theirs to keep and place face down in their ship. If they’re competing, a battle ensues! The cards are turned over and point values on the card are compared; the highest total wins the chest.
This phase continues until players have used all of their crew members and the player with the most coins on the treasure chests they collected wins the game. As mentioned earlier, there are animal chief cards which allow players to win and/or open a chest they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to; it’s best to use these once the players have a grasp of the basic mechanics.
There’s some lovely graphic design in the game; the animals are charmingly illustrated and there’s a wonderful cartoony quality to the rest of the art. The card drafting is unusual for a game aimed at younger players, but it’s a great way to teach children planning and thinking ahead, with the second phase engaging their brains in a different way entirely.
I’m really impressed with Little Battle. It’s a little difficult to get hold of in the UK, but if you can find it – and you have younger players in the family, that you’d like to introduce to some more complex gaming mechanics than they’re used to, with a fun theme and in a reasonably straightforward way – it’s a fantastic little experience. It won’t engage adult players for long, but it really is a superb title for the little battlers in your life.
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