by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Tactical Board Games are far from a dying art, but they’re terribly difficult to get right on PC without feeling frustrating. BATALJ is the first game from Fall Damage Games, and I have to say, I think they have a real hit on their hands. The concept of simultaneous-turn strategy/tactical games is one I enjoy, but most of the games in this style I have played felt lackluster in some manner. They seem to be missing a certain something. The concept for BATALJ is a simple one, but behind that easy-to-play exterior lies a wealth of complex tactical potential. The word BATALJ is Swedish and roughly translates into “Skirmish” or “Battle”, and it’s a very fitting, but important name. That’s exactly what you do in BATALJ. It’s one vs. one tactical skirmish, where the winner is the first to five points – or the first player to completely wipe the other team.
There are presently three factions in BATALJ, each with their own units and personality/playstyle. You cannot make teams of cross-faction units unless you’re using Sandbox Mode. It can be very overwhelming to enter a game like this that has 63 units across three factions. That’s what makes Sandbox Mode so great. You can build a battlefield based on whatever criteria you want, placing any units on friendly or enemy sides. Using this, you can get an accurate gauge on how useful a unit is to your potential squad, or even help you find the faction you want to represent the most. This is one of the biggest positives for BATALJ, doubly great since you don’t have to unlock any characters. All units are unlocked upon purchase.
Under the Squads menu, you have the three factions, and plenty of options to build your own loadouts. You have 10 points to put together a squad for battle – Tier 1 Units cost 1 point, Tier 2 Units cost 2 points – and you can run one of three Heroes. The three factions are the Re-Linked, Rusters, and Splicers. The Re-Linked are humans who replaced their bodies with machines and use logic and reasoning to do battle. They are mobile, have powerful abilities, but aren’t the sturdiest units. Rusters pilot old, junkyard style mecha, and lean towards high armor and high defense. They excel at holding down points and turtling. The Splicers are genetically-altered humans, they take any moment to upgrade and improve their biology. The Splicers are pretty hard to deal with since they have plenty of damage, healing, mobility, and debuffs. You really can’t go wrong, but I’m sure this game will have a meta as it goes on.
This is only a 1 vs.1 game, so after you select Quickplay (Ranked is not available yet), you select your Squad and place your first units near your Command Unit. Players start across from each other, and there will be three “Control” points set on the map. What makes this interesting, is none of the units specifically ‘goes first’. Both players move their units at the same time during the planning phase. Depending on what that unit did or did not do, it moves up or down the line for the next turn. For the first turn, you have four points to deploy units, and a coin tossed is used to determine who makes the first move. You can also set them where you want them to go on the timeline (turn order). Each round/turn you have the Planning Phase and Action Phase. At the top of the screen, there’s a list of units currently on the battlefield – that’s the timeline. If a unit takes no action, it conserves energy and moves closer to the front of the line. Units that use powerful abilities move towards the back, and it’s always clear who is going to go when at the start of a turn.
The hexagon grids are easy to see simply by clicking a unit that’s on the field, and hovering over the abilities at the bottom of the screen tell what they do, what any cooldown might be, and the damage it deals. Clicking the ability will show its range. This creates a choice of “do you attack and try to knock out an enemy, or do you hold back and let that unit go first next turn?” there are tons of options and possibilities, all of which make BATALJ a satisfying strategy game.
The goal is to gain five points by claiming the choke points or defeat the entire enemy team, but there are some hurdles that prevent that from going down incredibly fast. You can only gain one point a turn, so there’s seldom a reason to spread your units out across all three points unless it’s to deny the opponent a shot at them. If you control a choke point, it glows green, and if it’s contested it’s yellow. If your foe has it, it’s red. Every two turns, you spawn another unit or two onto the battlefield also, so these two things prevent the game from being over far too quickly. One of the other excellent points about this turn-based system is there’s plenty of options to outplay, outguess and outmaneuver your opponents. You could prepare a massive attack to finish someone off, but they go first and may have an ability to leap away just in time.
There’s a great deal of tactical depth and possibility in BATALJ. There are hundreds of possible squads you can put together, and who knows what the other player is going to have? I do wish that there were an option to play against bots in the event that there are long queue times for player-made matches, or an option to play against your friends. This is one of the few points of contention I have with BATALJ, is that the wait times can be a little rough, and players who are losing tend to wait down the clock. These, however, are not knocks on the game itself. Another point in BATALJ’s favor is the unit customization. While you cannot customize each unit, as you play you unlock army colors, such as “Amphibian Force” for the Rusters. What’s that? No lootboxes? You can just. . . play the game? It’s wild.
Battleground of the Future: 4.5/5 (Great)
I really and truly have loved playing BATALJ. It’s got a lot of heart, it’s sound on a strategic level, and I enjoy the visual aesthetic of the game immensely. Fall Damage Games really have something special on their hands here, and I hope more people get into it. Strategy games that don’t rely on Inputs Per Second are far more enjoyable in my opinion. You can take your time (within reason) and plan your moves out instead of furiously clicking everything in sight and memorizing insane shortcuts on your keyboard. But with a low cost of entry and no cash shop, I wonder how it will be monetized. Will they offer new factions in the future for a moderate sum? I’d be okay with that. Will it be balanced and updated based on how the player/ranked matches go? That’s something else I’m curious about for the future. It could use a combat log to see exactly what happened on a turn-for-turn basis or maybe a chat window for that, but I can see that also slowing the game down. BATALJ is a fun, solid strategy game that I would recommend to anyone who is a fan of turn-based strategy/board games.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.