- For ages 12 and up
- For 2 to 4 players
- Approximately 60 minutes to complete
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Strategy & Tactics
- Cooperative & Team Play
- Hand/Resource Management
- Worker Placement & Area Control
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Take up your banner and lead your army to victory across a wartorn landscape
- Gamer Geek mixed!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek mixed!
Spanish-American philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, said, “Only the dead see the end of war.” Which is a very sobering and dark reminder for us all. But in this game, even the dead may not rest as they can be brought back and commanded to fight on behalf of the player. In this world, ravaged by war and supernatural catastrophes, players lead their armies in a broken land to conquer their foes and bring all under their control. Take up your sword, raise the dead warrior legends of the past, and march upon your opponent’s castle. To the victory go the spoils and the world.
Bellum Fabulis, designed by Joao Borrego and published by Johnylamb’s Games, is comprised of one game board, one Doctor figurine, four Hero figurines, four Character cards, 60 Resource cards, 20 Development cards, 20 Legend cards, 48 Worker/Warrior pawns, 16 Castle tokens, 20 Wall tokens, 12 Plague tokens, four Relic tokens, and two standard ten-sided dice. The game components are solid pieces, thick cardboard, and durable cards. Illustrations are colorful and further the game’s theme and narrative.
Preparing for War
Complete the following steps to set up Bellum Fabulis using the standard rules.
First, set aside all of the Resource cards. Resource cards represent either Wood, Food, Iron, or Crystals. Resources are gathered during gameplay to purchase additional units, structures (castles and walls), and complete research into developing a stronger army.
Second, set aside a set of Development cards for each player. Take the “Blacksmith” Development card out of each set and shuffle the remaining Development cards, placing them face-down. Then place the “Blacksmith” face-down on top of the stack. In this way, all players can first research and activate their “Blacksmith”; however, the remaining Development cards are randomized.
Third, have each player select a Character of their choice, the matching colored Hero figurine, and the starting Resource card as noted on the Character card.
Fourth, players now place their Hero figurine and a Castle token on the gameboard using the designated starting space.
Fifth, place the remaining cards and tokens off to one side of the game-playing area.
That’s it for game setup. Determine who will go first and begin.
Bellum Fabulis is played in turns with no set number of turns per game. A player’s turn is summarized here.
Step One: Move Pawns
On a player’s turn, they may move their Hero figurine and one Pawn token in any direction as long as it’s in a straight line (this includes diagonal movement) and does not go out of bounds on the game board. Pawns, which include workers, warriors, and the heroes, can move one square per the number of Castles the player currently has in play.
For example, a player with three Castles may move three squares.
The order in which the player moves their Hero figurine and one Pawn token is up to them, and players are never required to use all of their movement or even move at all. The only other rule to follow when moving is that Pawns and Heroes cannot move through Walls, Castles, or other pawns. Nor can two Pawns be located on the same square. However, it’s perfectly permissible to travel between pawns via diagonal movement.
While moving, a player may “eliminate” their opponent’s Pawns. This is done by placing the Pawn on top of the other Pawn during movement; however, when doing so, the Pawn must immediately stop its movement even if it could still move additional spaces.
- Workers eliminate other “Worker” Pawns.
- Warriors can eliminate other “Warrior” and “Worker” Pawns and remove Castles.
- Heroes can eliminate other “Heroes” and Warrior” Pawns
An eliminated Pawn is placed off to one side of the gameboard back to the supply, as they can be returned to the game later during a player’s turn.
Step Two: Gather Resources or Purchase Items
The player may either gather resources or purchase items using their previously collected resources. Never both.
Scattered throughout the gameboard are square spaces with Resource icons. If a player has a Pawn located on such a square space, they may take that resource and collect the corresponding Resource card, adding it to their supply, for a maximum total of six Resource cards. A player will need to discard back to the supply any Resource cards that break that maximum, but the Resource cards to be discarded are up to the player.
The number of Resource cards the player takes is equal to the number of “Worker” Pawns located on any square space that matches the Resource the player wants to collect. This means if the player has three “Worker” Pawns in play and all three are on a “Wood” square space, the player would collect three “Wood” Resource cards.
In addition, the player’s Hero figure may also collect one Resource card, but it must be of the same type.
Players may purchase additional Pawns, Castles, Walls, Legends, or Developments to further their goals and ambitions.
- Workers cost one Food; Workers gather resources and can eliminate other “Worker” Pawns.
- Warriors cost one Iron; Warriors can eliminate other “Warrior” and “Worker” Pawns and remove Castles.
- Heroes cost one Iron and one Crystal; Heroes gather resources and can eliminate other “Heroes” and Warrior” Pawns.
- Walls cost one Wood
- Castles cost one Wood
- Legends cost one Crystal
- Development costs one Food, one Wood, and one Iron
If the player can pay the cost with their Resource cards, they do so now, placing the spent Resource cards back into the supply. There is no limit to the number of purchases a player can make on their turn if they have Resource cards to pay for it.
When purchasing Workers, Warriors, and Heroes, they must be placed in an empty space around a Castle that does not have a Resource icon. The one exception is if the player’s Castle has an opponent’s Pawn next to it, in which case, the newly acquired Pawn may be placed on top of the opponent’s Pawn, eliminating it, but only if the newly placed Pawn is capable of doing so.
When purchasing a Castle, they must be placed in any empty space next to a player’s Pawn in play and placed in a square space that is – at minimum – one square space away from any other Castle in play.
When purchasing a Wall, it must be placed on the borders of spaces occupied by the player’s Pawn or Castle for a maximum of two Walls next to each other.
When purchasing a Legend, a Legend card is drawn randomly and kept hidden in the player’s hand until used. A player may use a Legend whenever they like, attempting to use the spirit of a mighty warrior for their own personal gain. To do so successfully, the player must roll the number listed on the Legend card or higher. If they do so, they may use the listed ability. Regardless of the outcome of the roll, the Legend card is then discarded.
When purchasing Development cards, the top-most Development card is drawn and played face-up in front of the owning player. The bonus and benefits summarized on the Development card are now available to the player for the game’s duration.
This completes the player’s turn. The next player now takes their turn, starting with step one noted above.
On the Field of Victory
Players continue to take turns, strategically and tactically waging war on each other, until any one player captures two castles. This ends the game, and the player who captured the second castle is declared the winner.
The standard game pits one player against another, testing their ability to think strategically and tactically at all times. The game also supports a number of other variants that include the following:
- Two players versus one player
- Two players versus two players
- Everyone versus everyone
The game also includes a special game mode referred to as “Plague,” wherein the Plauge tokens are seeded to the gameboard randomly, which in turn creates movement barriers and a means to earn additional Legend points if the Plauge tokens are removed, or the player’s Legends take out the Plague Doctor.
Optional rules are also provided that inform the player how to reduce the time needed to play the game. Instead of securing victory by sacking two castles, the game can be won by only taking one castle. Of course, the game can also be lengthened by requiring more than two castles to be conquered.
Finally, Relic tokens may be randomly seeded to the gameboard during setup. Once captured by a player’s Hero, they will provide two Pawns of the player’s choice upon their use.
To learn more about Bellum Fabulis, visit the game’s website.
The Child Geeks enjoyed the game, finding the rules easy to understand and the gameplay fast. I will note, however, that while the gameplay was fast, the game itself was not. We used the game variant rules to reduce the victory conditions to only one Castle token. This helped keep the game to a reasonable amount of time without taxing our youngest players’ attention span and patience. One Child Geek said, “I like the game and think it is fun to play. It took too long to win, and I had to stop playing for a bit and return to it to eat dinner and do my homework. I am glad I came back because I won and had fun.” Another Child Geek said, “I liked how you could capture the ghosts of other warriors and use them to help you win. I liked the game and thought playing should take less time.” When the last castle was taken, the Child Geeks took a vote and decided the game was fun but took too long to play, giving it a mixed endorsement.
The Parent Geeks found Bellum Fabulis an easy game to learn and engaging to play. They, too, saw the game to be a bit longer than they anticipated, but that didn’t stop them from enjoying it. According to one Parent Geek, “I liked the game. It has an old-school feel and seems to have watered down all the other game mechanics I see in other combat and war games down to essentials. I liked that as it let me enjoy the game and the feeling of taking on my opponent versus trying to keep track of many things.” Another Parent Geek said, “A fun game, and I wasn’t too sure how I would like it as I don’t care for combat games. This one took me a bit to get into, but once I did, I liked it. It took longer than I think it should, but I wouldn’t want to rush the game, either.” When the Heroes took to the field, the Parent Geeks cheered them on enthusiastically, giving the game their full endorsement.
The Gamer Geeks found Bellum Fabulis to be a simple approach to combat games that worked but was also tedious in its execution and monotonous in its gameplay. According to one Gamer Geek, “This is a great example of a combat game you would want to play with someone just starting to play these games. The mechanics are simple, the decisions are not easy but obvious, and the objectives are always clear. Not a lot to be confused about or to think about. I wanted it to be more, but I know of several other games off the top of my head that do a better job with less time at the table.” Another Gamer Geek said, “A great introduction to a combat and war game. Not for me, as I want more emphasis on strategic and tactical gameplay, not just moving pieces around and buying them faster than my opponent. Although, now that I say it out loud, that is an awful lot like Axis and Allies. I don’t know. I think the game is alright.” When the last of the warriors retired, the Gamer Geeks took a vote and had mixed feelings about how well it did at their elitist table, resulting in a mixed endorsement.
Admittedly, this game has a weird title. Everyone I put it in front of said as much, as they believed “fabulis” was a spelling error of “fabulous.” Only after I told them the game’s title was Latin for “war stories” did they agree that the game’s title was on point. Although, everyone still agreed the game’s title was a little tricky to work around.
That said, let’s talk about the game. Oh, boy, was it fun. And by “fun,” I mean old-school goodness that took me back to my earlier days of playing board games at my parent’s dining room table. As noted by the Gamer Geeks, Bellum Fabulis has a simple approach to movement and combat. It’s not elegant, mind you, but a very approachable way to move strategically and attack tactically. This made it very easy to teach and to play, with the most significant drawback being the game’s length. Which, again, can be adjusted accordingly at the start of the game.
The mixed endorsements do not surprise me. Combat games and warfare games tend to polarize the player base. These games have a level of competitiveness and aggressiveness that repel some folks and draw in others. Bellum Fabulis, however, approaches the combat like Chess or Checkers, which makes the “attacking” aspect simply a matter of moving into an opponent’s Pawn rather than rolling dice. It’s a fast and effective way of getting the result the player wants and moving on. Besides the pain of removing the Pawn, the ease with which you can add them back makes each setback from a lost unit on the field feel more like an exercise in resource management rather than making recruitment numbers.
Which all results in a game that always felt like the games of my youth. This appealed to some and didn’t satisfy others. The game itself is very playable and enjoyable, but like all games, it depends on the player at the table to succeed. Try this fun game of clashing steel, building walls, and toppling castles when the opportunity persists to see if Bellum Fabulis is “fabulous” on your family gaming table.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.