Produced by Milton Bradley in 1992, Battle Masters is a poor mans Warhammer Fantasy. Containing a 6 foot Battlemat, printed with the map of some countryside, a plastic molded Battle Tower and several plastic hedges and ditches. The game focused on units from the Imperial side facing followers of Chaos in a Fantasy battle.

Order of play was determined by a deck of cards, included with the game. Each player took turns drawing from the deck and any units pictured on the card were moved by the appropriate player. For example, if the Chaos player drew a card with a Goblin unit, he would move one of his Goblin units. However if he drew an Imperial Cavelry card then the Imperial player moved one of his cavelry instead.

Combat was resolved quickly and easily. When two opposing units were close enough, they could attack on another. The attacking unit rolled dice equal to its battle stat and any skulls that were rolled did one point of damage to the opposing unit. The opposing unit rolled afterwards and any shields that appeared negated one hit each. Once a unit received Three unblocked hits, that unit was destroyed.

Whichever side is reduced to having no units first loses.

Though it is out of print, copies of Battle Masters can still be found on E-Bay and other auction sites.

Battle Masters is a massive, remarkable game. I remember receiving this as a kid one Christmas when Santa was all out of Hero Quest, and being amazed at just how huge the box was. The game certainly lived up to its carton: The vinyl battle mat was five feet square, bigger than any table we had, so we had to lay this out on the floor. I'm convinced this game was invented to get kids to clean their room.

If you already play something like Warhammer Fantasy, you'll probably find this game too simple. If you're new to fantasy wargaming, you may enjoy this (now out of print) game. A disclaimer: if you find a set in someone's attic or intend on buying one on ebay, be warned that this game is an all-day affair. Setting up all the miniatures takes a fair amount of time, and actually playing a round of Battle Masters, crawling onto the floor and reaching across the mat to move your units, can be a lengthy experience. Arguably, however, that's half the fun.

How to Play Battle Masters (Without Even Owning the Game Set)

If you're interested in finding a new game to play, you could do worse than to give Battle Masters a try. The game's long out of print — however, as I'll explain shortly, it's entirely feasible to recreate the game from other parts. You won't have the five foot game mat or horde of Citadel miniatures - unless of course you use miniatures of your own as stand-ins — but you can expect to play a reasonable simulacrum of the real thing.

Step 1: Get the rules

Hasbro, in their wisdom, have released the game rules as a free download. A lifesaver, since I don't even have the one from my original game set. Get them here:

Step 2: The Miniatures

It doesn't matter how you recreate the miniatures, but I'm going to assume here that you don't have the real thing to hand. What I've used is a set of one-inch, glazed mosaic tiles. You need at least 25 tiles, and can often get these cheaply at a supplier. You may be able to scrounge what you need in sample off-cuts. Alternatively, use draughts pieces or pebbles (an idea I've swiped from Dungeons & Dragons players stationed in Iraq).

The following is a list of the miniatures, along with their attack score (very important).

Imperial Army (11 units)

  • 1 Lord Knights (5)
  • 3 Imperial Knights (4)
  • 3 Imperial Men-At-Arms (3)
  • 2 Imperial Archers (3)
  • 1 Imperial Crossbowmen (3)
  • 1 Mighty Cannon (2)

Chaos Army (14 units)

  • 1 Champions of Chaos (5)
  • 2 Chaos Warriors (4)
  • 2 Chaos Archers (2)
  • 2 Orc Warbands (3)
  • 2 Goblin Warbands (2)
  • 2 Wolf Riders (2)
  • 2 Beastmen Raiders (3)
  • 1 Ogre Champion (4)

Denote these on your glazed tiles in whatever way you see fit - draw pictures if you like, but remember to mark the unit's attack score. Leave room to mark a damage tally - I recommend you do this in water-soluble pen or board marker, and preferably in a different colour, like red. Leave another space for an "elite" unit marker, just in case you intend on playing an extended campaign or want to give one player a handicap.

If you're interested in a larger game, the Battle Masters: Reinforcements expansion sets (the Imperial Knights and Lords of Chaos sets) added further units to each side. See the Addendum at the end.

Step 3: Create the Cards

Battle Masters revolves around a deck of fifty-nine playing cards which determine which units move next. It's a clever system, adding an element of randomness into the game while secretly determining the relative speed of each unit and army.

You'll need two identical decks of playing cards - these are inexpensive. Take fifty-nine cards in all (get rid of the royals, they're too detailed to write on) and create your game deck simply by writing unit names on each in permanent marker. Here's the set.

Turn Cards, 59

  • 4 Imperial Knights
  • 2 Lord Knights
  • 2 Imperial Archers
  • 1 Men-At-Arms and Imperial Archers
  • 4 Mighty Cannon
  • 1 Imperial Knights + Lord Knights Charge
  • 6 Imperial Knights + Lord Knights
  • 4 Men-At-Arms, Imperial Archers, and Crossbowmen
  • 1 Imperial: Whole Army Move
  • 1 Lord Knights Charge
  • 3 Goblins and Orcs
  • 2 Goblins and Wolf Riders
  • 2 Champions of Chaos Charge
  • 2 Beastmen, Orcs, and Goblins
  • 1 Goblins, Beastmen, and Wolf Riders
  • 5 Champions of Chaos and Wolf Riders
  • 1 Chaos Archers and Champions of Chaos
  • 1 Goblins, Champions of Chaos, and Beastmen
  • 4 Chaos Warriors, Champions of Chaos, and Chaos Archers
  • 5 Wolf Riders - Double Move
  • 5 Ogre
  • 1 Chaos Warriors, Beastmen, Orcs, Chaos Archers, and Goblins
  • 1 Chaos: Whole Army Move

Further, you'll need to create six Ogre Cards, which are separate from the normal deck and given to the Chaos player, and ten two-sided tiles for the cannon which are laid on the board when the cannon is fired and can be made from card or any leftover tiles. It's important that the cannon tiles are two-sided just like the playing cards are, in that you can't tell the tile's result until it's turned over (with the exception of the Target tile, which is noted as such on the back to avoid confusion).

Ogre Cards, six

  • 3 Ogre Move
  • 3 Ogre Attack

Cannon Tiles, ten

  • 3 Bounce
  • 4 Fly
  • 2 Explode
  • 1 Target Tile (marked "explode" on the front, "Target" on the back)

Step 4: Create the Board

I've left this step until now since it depends largely on what tokens you use as "miniatures". Battle Masters requires a hex grid of at least twelve by twelve, sized to fit your miniatures. If you can't buy this in A3 or larger form factor, I recommend printing it off. Mark it as seen in the manual - if this seems like too much work, the only factors that really affect the game are the river (which winds across one side of the board) and the fords (squares where the river meets the road, allowing the river to be passed).

Back it with stickyback plastic or have it laminated for durability, or just print off several copies for disposable use. Unlike the real game, however, your board probably won't be made of durably vinyl and about five feet square. Pay close attention to the map displayed in the manual; remember that units can fit into the half-hexes on the sides.

Step 5: Create your Terrain Features

Aside from the river marked on the board, Battle Masters comes with three sets of terrain features while you'll have to simulate: The hedges, the terrain tiles, and the Tower. The manual describes how these work in play, but you'll need to create your own.

Hedges are simple enough, and can be created from anything you have around, perhaps blu-tack. A hedge is only as long as one side of a hex. There are four hedges.

The terrain tiles are normally the size of a single hex, and have different features on each side. There are four terrain tiles, thus eight in all: Three marshes, which cannot be entered, two fords, which allow units to pass through a river square, and three ditches, which prevent passage and hinder combat on four fortified sides of a hex. The tiles are thus demarcated as follows:

Terrain Tiles

  • Ford/Marsh
  • Ford/Ditch
  • Marsh/Ditch
  • Marsh/Ditch

However, the simplest way is simply to draw these on the board at the start of each game, assuming you have a re-usable laminated or disposable paper board. Remember to adhere to the maximum of two fords, three ditches, and three marshes.

The tower, finally, can be treated as a terrain tile. However, if you want to make it that bit more special you can make the tower into a raised piece of terrain - anything from blu-tack to a small rock to a rook from a chess set are options here. Just in case anyone decides to cannon the tower, make it possible to mark the unit with its three damage points.

Step 6: The Dice

The dice in the main game are simple six-sided dice, with special markings. Three sides are marked with a skull, two are blank, and one is a shield. Six are supplied. If you can't find these dice, any six normal dice will do. Unless you're able to mark the dice with thirty-six elaborate stickers, simply note down this solution. When attacking, a roll of 4, 5 or 6 is equivalent to a skull (one hit). When defending, a roll of 6 is equivalent to a shield (one hit blocked).

(Interestingly, it's only on very rare occasion that you will actually need all six dice. Only two units, the Champions of Chaos and the Lord Knights, have a combat rating of 5. As cavalry, neither can enter the Tower, which ordinarily grants the attacker +1 die. However, it's still possible to get six. Units surviving to the second round of a campaign gain +1 die. The Lord Knights / Champions of Chaos Charge card grants +1 when attacking, and units attacked through the fortified side of a ditch roll +1 when defending. In the case of an elite Lord Knights unit making a charge, it's possible to roll seven dice!)

That's it! Everything else you need to know to play is listed in the game manual, which I linked up there at Step 1. Let me know how you get on!

Addendum: Reinforcements

Two of the toys Santa never brought me were the Battle Masters reinforcements sets. Each player could bolster their armies by buying one of these sets, perhaps foreshadowing the player's conversion to the more advanced Warhammer Fantasy. However, Battle Masters has always struck me as preferable to the younger or more casual wargamer: Warhammer has always relied far too heavily on buying new miniatures for my liking.

It's generally fair to give each player one full set of reinforcements. However, there's also a points system, allowing you to quit. The cards themselves are unaffected - changing the units may make individual cards more or less powerful, but ultimately the power increase is accounted for in the points cost of the unit.

Imperial Knights

  • 1 Imperial Lords*
  • 1 Imperial Knights
  • 1 Men-At-Arms
  • 2 Archers
  • 1 Crossbow
  • 1 Cannon

Lords of Chaos

  • 2 Chaos Lords*
  • 4 Beastmen
  • 2 Ogres

* The Imperial Lords and Chaos Lords are new units. They're the same as the Lord Knights and Champions of Chaos units, respectively, except that they take only one hit to kill instead of three. Quite fitting when you consider fantasy battle fiction, where the army's most powerful general is always the last of the generals to go down.

Here's the points based system. You'll notice that individual armies are 72 points, while the reinforcements are 48pts each. Expect battles much above 120pts to take a long, long time.

Imperial Army

  • Mighty Cannon, 10pts
  • Lord Knights, 9pts
  • Imperial Knights, 8pts
  • Archers, 6pts
  • Crossbows, 5pts
  • Men-At-Arms, 4pts

Chaos Army

  • Champions of Chaos, 9pts
  • Chaos Lords, 8pts
  • Ogre, 8pts
  • Wolf Riders, 5pts
  • Chaos Warriors, 5pts
  • Orc, 5pts
  • Beastmen, 4pts
  • Goblin, 4pts
  • Archers, 4pts

More information:

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