Battle reports are great. They’re a great way to talk about the game we love, show off cool models, and discuss the kinds of cool moments that drive us to play. At their best, battle reports tell a great story and help us learn how to be better players. They get us excited about the possibilities for new games, and get us thinking about new ways to play. So why are so many of them so boring?
In this article I’m going to talk about how to write better battle reports. I’m going to go over why we write battle reports, what makes a good battle report, and how you can make sure the ones you write will be interesting.
NOTE: I’m not trying to call anyone out here. I love all of my Goonhammer co-authors, and I love your battle reports. I’m just addressing something that people have asked about before.
Writing a good battle report starts with asking three questions:
- Who is my audience?
- What is the purpose of this battle report?
- What was interesting about the game?
Let’s go through these.
Who is my audience?
Who’s going to be reading your battle report? Strangers on the internet? Close friends? Other players in your campaign group? Different details will matter more or less depending on who is reading the final report. Though generally speaking, if your report isn’t interesting to strangers, it probably won’t be interesting to your friends, either. This is also when you should think about the experience level of your audience. Are you writing for beginners or experienced players? If you’re writing for an audience that plays regularly, you can probably assume (or get away with assuming) at least an intermediate level audience who plays the game, but doesn’t really play in tournaments.
What is the purpose of this battle report?
Why are you writing a battle report in the first place? Generally, battle reports need to do one or both of the following: Inform, and entertain. Ideally, your report will do both, but that need not be the case: If your game was a casual affair between friends with no real strategy, then your report needs to be entertaining, laced with humor and good storytelling and pictures of pretty models. On the other hand if your games weren’t particularly entertaining, then the report needs to be informative, giving the reader new insight into how to play. If your report is neither, then it shouldn’t have been written in the first place.
Another thing to think about in this vein is “what do I want someone to take away from my report?” Are you showing off a new game type? relaying key events in a campaign game? Talking about your tournament experience? Whatever you want the reader to take away from your report, make sure you address that first and foremost, and understand that everything else is extraneous.
What was interesting about the game?
Your audience doesn’t need all the details. Tell us what was interesting about the game. Don’t give us the turn-by-turn, tell us what was notable. Don’t tell us what you did, tell us why you did it, help us understand the strategy behind your decisions and what you learned.
If you just start your reports thinking about (and answering) those questions, you’ll be well on your way to writing better reports. But to give you some additional help, here’s my step-by-step process for writing a battle report.
TheChirurgeon’s Step-by-Step process for writing a Battle Report:
- Establish the Narrative
Writing a battle report is basically telling a story (or doing journalism, if you prefer). And like telling a good story, you’re going to need to establish a narrative, with clear reference points, imagery, stakes, conflict, and pacing. Before you start writing your report, establish the narrative of your story. Is this a come-from-behind victory where you snatched victory from the jaws of defeat? Was it a complete rout, where you stomped your hapless opponent into oblivion? Was it a fiasco of disastrous rolls where nothing went right? Whatever you decide, lean into it – emphasize the details that play into that narrative, and don’t dwell on the ones that don’t. Don’t lie, (or lie if you want, whatever), but don’t go out of your way to tell us things that don’t fit the narrative unless they’re important. And if you have a bunch of key details that don’t fit the narrative, maybe you should consider a different narrative?
- Define the armies
The armies are important. We get it. But they’re also boring. If you’re gonna go through several games or tel us about your tournament list, then yes, give us the full list (or better yet, link to it – you’ve got google docs. On Goonhammer, we use expandable text for the lists). Otherwise, give us the broad strokes about your army and your opponent’s. Note the structure and the important stuff. Spare us from going through every points value and equipment choice unless you’re recapping a tournament and you think readers will want to copy one of the lists.
- Set up the game
Spend a sentence or two setting up the game. Give us the quick recap of the mission and deployment, but don’t spend any more time on this than you have to. If it’s a special mission or game with cool rules, sure, tell us about that. If it’s Cleanse and Control with Dawn of War deployment and you went first, that’s literally all you need to say. This is also a good time to establish stakes as well – why does this game matter? It’s OK if all you’re doing is proving once again to ANAmal.net that he and his mans belong in a dumpster, because that’s something we can all relate to.
If the tactics of the game are important talk about your plan – what did you want to accomplish going into this game? How were you going to win? What did you expect the opponent to do? This will set up an interesting beat to hit later, where you’ll talk about whether your plan did or did not work.
- Give the highlights / lowlights
Now you gotta tell the story. Don’t focus on the play-by-play. Instead, give us the highlights and lowlights. Tell us about your warlord punching a dreadnought to death. Tell us about the big gamble that paid off. Tell us about your opponent wiping an entire unit off the table with a lucky volley of fire, or when your meltagun raptor literally missed the building he was fucking standing on like some kind of chump bitch stormtrooper doing the rounds on his first day on Bespin.
For tactically-focused battle reports, here’s where you talk about the army plan. Did it work? Why or why not? What did the opponent do to disrupt it? What mistakes did they make? Again, the goal here is not to be incredibly comprehensive, but to relay the important bits.
- Add some cool photos if you have them
If you’ve got cool photos to add, put them in here. Again, we don’t need the play-by-play. Give us a shot of the table at the start for context, then show us some cool moments that you can put next to your descriptions. A couple of striking photos with close-ups of models mid-game are better than dozens of shots of the full table.
- Give the outcome
Tell us how the game ended. Who won, and what was the final score. If you were playing a tournament, give us your ongoing record after each game.
- Point out learning moments / insight
Similar to the highlights/lowlights, point out what you learned and how your expectations shifted during the game. What worked, what didn’t. If you’re planning to change up your strategy in the future because of this game, tell us why and how.
Go back, read what you wrote, and trim it down. Take out the unnecessary sentences. I guarantee you, your reports could stand to be shorter. Unless you’ve got a truly epic game to describe and word counts to fill, your reports should cap out at five paragraphs: 1 to set up the game, 3 to describe the early, middle, and late-game action, and 1 to give us the final results.
If you do these things, your battle reports will be more fun to read. If you can make them funny as well, then do that too. If you can’t, don’t try and force it. Just focus on telling better stories. Even if you’re recapping a tournament, there’s no reason your battle reports need to be dry.