In a departure from normal club fare, we held a game of Burrows and Badgers, by Michael Lovejoy, with his beautiful Oathsworn miniatures. A skirmish game set in a fantasy world of anthropomorphic animals, it has an intuitive basic system with lots of depth for developing with skills and special actions, along with an enjoyable mix of whimsy and grimdark: think Redwall meets Mordheim.
In the early morning hours, shadowy figures move through the dawn mists outside the walls of north Escanceastre. Cold-blooded Wildlings emerged from the woods and headed for the broken gate, intent on setting fire to the homes of the city-dwelling beasts, grown fat and soft in their civilised decadence. To the east, a band of rough-looking rogues snuck toward another gate, Oliver Hardberger, their otter leader, having already infiltrated the city the night before and waiting to open it to them. Hungry and in need of cash to keep themselves going, they were intent on lightening the pockets of the townsbeasts amidst the impending chaos.
Tocsins began to sound across the northern edge of the city, and Geoffroi le Hardi, the hare knight, hastily gathered together his militia to defend the walls. Meanwhile, at the city’s House of Illumination, the De Bouan otter captain, Cuthbert Moor, summoned his fellow witch hunters. Something was brewing, and conflicts usually meant magic users: an opportunity for eliminating some perverted mages seemed imminent.
As the townsbeasts fled toward the city centre, one such mage, an adder volunteer with the militia, cast a bolt of lightning which struck Hardberger, exposed above the gatehouse. The otter took the hit with a grunt, but immediately a rabbit with a bow leapt onto the parapet and began slinging arrows into the streets. Geoffroi le Hardi leapt in turn to attack Hardberger, and each rained blows down on the other till they were both bloodied, while the rogues’ mouse sorceress ran about outside, trying to draw a bead on Hardberger so as to cast a healing spell on it. A mad shrew rogue then scaled the wall to surround Geoffroi, who looked likely to succumb to the invaders. However, a squirrel witch supporting the militia cast a healing spell of her own, returning Geoffroi to full strength as a crossbow bolt from a militia weasel knocked the rabbit rogue, now badly wounded, off the wall.
At the broken gate, Wildlings poured into the town, while one of their moles emerged from the ground to begin burning a house. Damp tinder or a dirty flint, however, frustrated his efforts… The toad War Mother and her lizard second rushed to the market hall and immediately set it on fire. The witch hunters crept through the streets, unsure whether to investigate the magical signature created by the adder and squirrel at the other gate or to attack the Wildling shamans who looked exposed outside the wall as their companions rushed into Escanceastre.
Moor ultimately chose to go for the Wildlings, deciding that the deviant citizens could be dealt with later or left for the Illuminators. His crossbow-weasel mounted the wall and plugged a sizeable bolt into the back of the War Mother, exulting in her success at firing the market hall. Enraged, she and the lizard crunched down on their berserker pods and charged in a frenzy into Moor and his badger hospitaller, wounding them badly.
As the rogue and militia leaders continued to struggle above the gatehouse, two mouse knights ran as fast as their little legs could carry them to the stairs. One was ambushed by a squirrel hiding on the parapet, but was quickly healed by their squirrel sorceress. As the first mouse surrounded him, Geoffroi committed himself to fate and swung his sword into the otter with a deadly thrust, knocking him from the wall to his death.
Their leader dead, the rogues seemed to deflate. Their sparrow flitted to a burrow and began frantically searching for any moveable wealth, but to no avail. The others, inspired by this example, tried to disengage from the militia and run to loot the houses, crouching under a hail of crossbow bolts and magical lightning.
The badly mauled witch hunters realised they could not stand paw-to-paw with the berserkers, and so took to stunning them while waiting for reinforcements. The hedgehog came in wielding his hammer and a torch, the latter of which promptly went out in the lizard’s eye. Unfortunately, a frog, channelled by his toad shaman’s magic, had just surged into the crossbow-weasel covering them from the wall and wounded him badly.
Meanwhile, the weasel zealot racing toward the shamans outside the wall received a face full of adder, magically imbued with the strength of a bear, and turned on his paw to run back to support his leader engaged with the berserkers. Combined, the bloodied witch hunters managed to beat down the paralysed berserkers, but outside shamanistic chanting caused the adder to become ever stronger.
Deeper in the city, the mole finally managed to set a house alight, and then ran on to the blacksmith’s
Geoffroi le Hardi leapt into pursuing the rogues, cutting down the bowrabbit as she ran toward a dwelling. The shrew charged the squirrel witch, intent on preventing the militia from healing it, but his wounds were too great and he was dispatched by the adder mage as the squirrel, unsurprisingly, healed herself. The sparrow finally discovered a chest of valuables, but, not wanting to be slowed down, grabbed as many coins as he could and flew to the pub where he began trying to force open the till. Geoffroi called to his followers to run toward the smoke from the west of the city, where the mole was having a merry time as an arsonist as he tunnelled under the burning smithy. The mice had to go cautiously, however, watched over by the squirrel archer hidden in the rubble of a gap in the wall. Otherwise, however, the rogues were a spent force, the sparrow still unable to open the cash drawer in the inn.
The witch hunters, meanwhile, were wondering how they had gotten caught in this scrum as the badger desperately tried to heal them as fast as he could. The crossbow-weasel was too far away and abseiled from the wall, only to be savaged by the adder and finished off by the pursuing frog. Just when the witch hunters inside the wall had more or less caught their breath, the adder, now bulging with magic steroids, came charging in, supported by the frog.
Blows from the enraged and injured badger brought the frog nearly to death’s door, but he then drew deep inside himself to summon up a heroic sacrifice, which took Moor out of action with him. With all of their detachment either neutralised or poisoned by painful adder venom, the witch hunters saw no prospect of bringing any magical deviants to justice.
The militia were still hale and hearty, but nearly half of the buildings in their quarter of the city had been burned or looted. The Wildlings retreated jubilantly into the woods, the rogues slunk away to lick their wounds, and the severely chastened witch hunters made their way back to the House of Illumination with their tails firmly between their legs. Geoffroi le Hardi’s militia could confidently claim victory, and downplayed the three smouldering wrecks of commercial and residential property as inevitable collateral damage.
We called the game here as four hours had passed and the eventual outcome was pretty clear, though it would have been fun to see the militia slug it out with the surviving royalists. We also realised at this point that the Wildling lizard had been their second, which means that they should have routed automatically once he and the War Mother had been killed, which would have given a very different, though perhaps less enjoyable game.
Burrows and Badgers is intended for two players but works well with four, though one needs to factor in the extra time, especially if there are first-time players.
Many thanks to Rob, Jean-Baptiste, Bertie, and Alex for a great game that had some great twists and turns. Not sure if we’ll see anything quite this far from the historical again at club any time soon, but I was grateful the opportunity to bring it out to a slightly wider audience and everyone seemed to have a good time.