Battle of the Bards by David Gerrard and Junk Spirit Games is a deck building dice building and placement game all about winning the battle of the bands competition in the fictional town of Noonshade, in the Tessandor universe. Build your band and dancers from a pack of Poets, Minstrels and troubadours and seek to create the largest audience; be the band that gets the best encore and you could win the coveted Noonshade Battle of the Bards trophy.
The artwork in this game is lovely, a mix of whimsical, slightly surreal comic characters, good quality card stock, tokens and 60 colourful dice make this a really good looking game on the table. As you build your band and hire some of the veteran bards the deck you hold becomes even more vibrant with some real characters that will catch your eye.
The first player marker is also outstanding a massive lute!
The audience deck is to be shuffled and placed face up. The top three cards are the dealt face up next to the deck creating four possible cards to draw from.
The Veteran Bard deck is shuffled and four cards dealt face up, creating the draw pile. The card closest to the deck is the newest Bard in town and will cost an additional die to purchase.
Each player is given two of each of the basic card: dancers, illusionists, musicians, singers and wanted posters. They are all given one roadie.
The four lead artist cards are shuffled and dealt out to each player along with a player aid. The leads gain two dice and a performance token that matches the colour of their lead.
Finally, each player is given one encore card randomly this illustrates the required veteran types the player should collect to gain extra dice in the final encore round.
The last player to take the stage goes first.
Players shuffle their deck and draw five cards as a starting hand.
All players simultaneously take the stage by playing three cards face up on the table and collecting the coloured dice associated with these cards creating their dice pool. White dice icons are wild so players can pick any colour of dice to add to their pool. All players roll the dice from their dice pool and the next stage of the round can start.
Players put on a show and can take two actions on their turn. Play continues until all players have completed all available actions and passed. Players can choose a number of actions and can do so in any order.
They can create a performance by discarding a run of three consecutive numbered dice. This allows players to gain a performance token, dancer, singer, musician or illusionist. The player gains the token whose colour is in the majority in the three dice. If there are three different dice, the player chooses one of the tokens form the three colours they have played. The tokens are used later to capture an audience as each audience has a required cost in tokens, which is another available action. If you want to capture the audience on the deck you will need to discard an additional card from your hand.
Players can spend their dice on a bard to gain its action. An icon illustrates the number on the dice required to gain the action. Actions can include gaining additional dice of a specific colour. Or summoning a new member from your own draw pile to your band. Alternatively, gaining tokens or additional actions.
If the player has a wanted poster they can choose to hire a veteran bard who will bring higher level powers to your band and also provide 1 victory point. To hire a veteran play your wanted card, discard a further card from your hand and spend two dice. Unless of course you want to hire the newest bard in town. In which case, you will need to spend an extra die. Planning ahead is vital here as choosing the right veterans can support in gaining valuable actions but also will be needed if you want to be successful in the encore round which can provide an additional four victory points at the end of the game.
Players can use a tune token to either change a die result by +/-1 or to re roll 1 or all of their dice.
Play continues round after round with players slowly gaining the benefit of their veterans more powerful abilities and actions and the support and additional actions that the audience provide. For example, tokens are given as bonuses for specific actions and tune token become more powerful. Players at the end of each round add cards in their hands to the performance cards and create a discard pile. At this point they can choose to fire a band member, making the deck slowly more powerful as they remove the basic cards. All players draw back up to five and keep up to eight dice. First player marker moves round and the next round starts. Once a player has captured four audience cards, the end game begins. When all players have completed this round, the encore round can begin.
In the encore round, players discard all their dice and reveal their encore card. Any veteran bards they have collected matching the symbols on the encore card equate to a dice they can take, up to four. All players roll any dice they have been successful in gaining. The highest score wins the encore round and four victory points.
Players then add up the total of victory points they have collected through their veteran bards, captured audience, encore round points and any tokens left at the end of the game. The player with the highest score gains the coveted Noonshade Battle of the Bards trophy.
Battle of the Bards is a great game with a nice mix of deck building, dice drafting and placement. As well as some round by round mini engine building mechanics thrown in. The mix of mechanics ensure that although there is clearly some luck based elements with die rolling and luck of the draw. There is plenty of strategy to mitigate this. When to activate abilities, creating a balanced band that allows you to gain actions through low and high rolls. Choosing when to use tokens effectively to cash in and capture audiences. This creates plenty of opportunities for tactical play and strategic thinking.
This makes Battle of the bards a deeper challenge than the whimsical artwork suggests. Although, it is not so difficult that new gamers would find it too hard to learn. We loved playing this at game night and are looking forward to getting the guys back together. Forming a band and rolling our dice to see who will be the best band in t own and take away the trophy next time!