Masters of the Universe: Battleground has the Power on Tabletop

28 June 2022
We call on the power of Castle Greyskull to make a new He-Man miniatures game

As board games enter the mainstream, the more we see large companies want to release their closely guarded characters and stories to be adapted to the tabletop in a ‘proper’ way. While there’s always been a version of a tie-in game out there for pretty much any ‘intellectual property’. The fact that I’ve used the phrase ‘intellectual property’ and you know what I mean, is in part because of products like a He-Man. We’ve all been trained into using the vaguely legalese language of press releases, aided by the spread of Marvel franchises from which it is hard to return to simply talking about films.

Making a He-Man game however is particularly interesting because of the way He-Man came into existence. We talk to Jacek Karpowicz of Archon Studios about bringing this franchise to our tabletop, and complex struggle of turning a toy into a miniature.


He-Man himself was designed to be generic. The character’s creator, Roger Sweet, designed him so that he could be inserted into nearly any genre. The name He-Man itself is even designed to be generic, possibly only to be more generalised if it were to be ‘Man-man’. Mattel famously turned down a deal to create characters based on Star Wars in 1976, and after the toy company saw the huge profits they missed out on they attempted to create several lines of action figure toys to compete.

George Lucas said, in a 1999 interview with Roger Ebert that “One thing about Star Wars that I’m really proud of is that it expands the imagination. That’s why I like the ‘Star Wars’ toys.”

It was this sense of creating a world of imagination that the toy company Mattel was trying to cash in on.

Sweet originally created the action figure by taking another toy in the Mattel line and slapping modelling clay onto it. Naturally, Archon Studios are working from a different point.

The company has worked on a number of high profile titles, including Wolfenstein: The Board Game, which has recently landed with backers. They’re known in a large part for their miniatures, which can be seen in spades here. Aside from these big licenses, they’re also working on Heroes of Might and Magic 3: The Board Game.

“Gaming, miniatures, and a bunch of geek stuff have been our passion since we were kids. So, working on such great projects is a fulfilment of our dreams,” says Karpowicz, “it’s wonderful that we can share our passion with the community of board gamers and fandoms of significant franchises.”

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Masters of the Universe: Battleground is a skirmish game that takes place on a hexagonal field of war, a classic format for an arena battler. There’s also, unsurprisingly from a company that made plastic castle doors for their Wolfenstein game, a fair bit of scenery to contend with.

“It’s a two-player skirmish miniature game that uses iconic characters from the world of Masters of the Universe,” Karpowicz says, introducing the game, “with this project we created not only a very entertaining strategy game but we’ve also paid a lot of attention to the potential of this amazing universe. We hope it will be attractive for both fans of the Master of the Universe and fans of skirmish games even if they never heard of He-Man – if they are any of those out there.”

Players select their forces for a line-up you may remember from toy adverts as a child, if you’re old enough. For the Master of the Universe side of the field you’ll have the options of He-Man, Stratos (the one with feathers), Man-At-Arms (the one with the cudgel), Ram Man (the big one with the hard head), and most amusingly Orko – the strange, floating little wizard with an obscured face (assuming there is one there at all).

The forces of evil include Tri-Klops (the pointy one), Evil-Lyn, Trap Jaw (with a metal jaw), Mer-Man (bit fishy), and of course, Skeletor himself. From there players select equipment, “the base set provides hundreds of possible combinations,” explains Karpowicz, “then they prepare a Fate deck. Cards from this deck will be used to activate chosen characters during the game.”

“Once players have done all that, they deploy their forces on the map created with beautifully sculpted 3D terrain and the battle begins. Brave heroes and insidious villains swing their swords, cast spells and fire blasters in order to knock out the opposition and claim the victory,” he adds.

The game uses a kind of blind bidding activation and initiative system.

“The activation system is one of the defining features of the game,” says Karpowicz, “the player starts every round by choosing one card from their hand, placing it face down on the table, and waiting for the opponent to do the same. Once both players are ready, they reveal their choices.”

“Played cards dictate who will activate their character first, amount of action point and mana available to activated character, and optional special bonuses,” explains the designer, “however, players don’t have to end on just one card. They can use as many cards as they want on a single model to create truly surprising strategies.”

Additional cards played after the first are only used for their special abilities, rather than contributing to action points. This adds to a whole host of other useful ‘boosts’ that characters can receive, like the ‘focus’ action. This allows a character to carry a focus token around with them on the field, which can be used for additional movement when the player wants – or be used to improve the scope of a spell test.

Winning is a case of getting the most points – naturally accrued by bashing their opponents about a bit.

“The player who gathers more victory points wins the game, it’s as simple as that,” says the designer, “you can gather victory points by knocking out the opponent’s models, claiming objective tokens from the battleground and by completing side missions. The last method is the most interesting one.”

“Players will have limited access to the powerful Glory cards. Each of those cards can be used to provide characters with extra AP or for a side mission,” says Karpowicz, “if an active character manages to fulfil the mission requirements during their current activation, the controlling player receives a respectable amount of victory points. So which one is better? Extra AP or chance of getting extra Victory Points? The choice is never easy.”

The hexes and terrain all lead to a tactical dance of position – staying out of the way or advancing all become big questions. The rules for moving through terrain also don’t hide away from the heroic angle of the franchise – yes, you can leap over a tall piece of cover, it’s just going to take six movement points, and it might leave you exposed if you don’t quite have enough resources to get away with such a bold move.

“Positioning, as usual in those types of games, is a key to victory,” says Karpowicz, “staying outside the enemy’s line of sight to prevent those pesky fireballs from coming your way is always a good idea, almost as good as taking cover behind a terrain piece and shooting your blaster at the opponent trying to claim an objective token.”

“However there is even more. You can take advantage of an elevated platform and ignore most of the enemies’ cover and line of sight blockers. You can also sneak up on your opponents and make a devastating flank attack that not only increases the chance to hit but also ignores all benefits from the target’s shield.”

This puts the game in a similar box to something like Mantic’s Deadzone, a simplified tactical wargame that uses cover and scenery to great effect.



Earlier we mentioned that the original creator of He-Man took a similar toy and started by adding that ‘bulk’ we’re familiar with in modelling clay. Archon Studios were put in a position of making a tabletop miniature from the final product – turning a toy back into a model. “While Archon Studio has several IP-based products in its portfolio, I must admit that working with a license based on toys released in the 1980s is an enormous challenge,” says Karpowicz, “the team has spent many hours searching for source materials for each item. For designing a single model, we often have to gather many references from different sources—a photo of a toy to work out the basic shape, a few frames taken from a series of comic books for weapons references, or even a description of the character from the original creator.”

You can see this labour of love in the models. While a toy figure is designed to be inhabited by the imagination of a child – i.e. they are designated as an empty space, an object whose context and content is mostly decided by the whim of the child – a gaming miniature has to hold a lot more meaning. A miniature in a game where there’s big characters with stats needs to display its purpose on the table – there’s a reason the hero from the Master’s of the Universe side of things with a hard head is running at you, for example. Archon have done this here with their unconstructed mono-build models. And on top of that, you have to get the sign off of the licensor – you know, the people who already made the toy.

“This reference package is then processed down to the last detail by our 3D department. The proposal is then sent to the licensor for approval. And only if Archon’s team did the homework well the licensor give us the green light for the next step, prototype, and in-house production,” says Karpowicz, “It’s a lengthy process but extremely rewarding; in the end, we have the ideal representation of the classic toy on the tabletop.


It’s hard not to see any licensing deal like this as just a stepping stone. Are we about to be flooded with even more Masters of the Universe games from Archon?

“Eternia is a place filled with heroes, villains, and legends waiting to be told as miniatures,” says Karpowicz, “be ready for true time travel as we plan to bring plenty of expansions and boosters to a tabletop as part of our game. Both single characters and whole factions. Even the famous locations like Snake Mountain will be part of the Masters of The Universe: Battleground journey as a piece of scenery.”

Which are fairly lofty goals, and look likely to send us back towards that ‘toy’ end of the gaming spectrum. For Karpowicz, it’s all about nostalgia, “it’s a unique opportunity to re-live childhood memories and turn them into a tabletop adventure. Not only do you finally have the chance to paint your favorite heroes as you see fit, but also you can play with them with your friends – but this time – in a strategic game. It’s up to you how Man-At-Arms will look alike and if Skeletor is finally triumphant.”

Unlike many of Archon’s previous titles, the game is available right now – having gone immediately to retail on the 26th April. This version is the English language version, and there are “more languages to follow the month after.”

Karpowicz says the easiest way to get hold of the game is through the Archon webstore, but encourages players to get in touch with their local games stores in the first instance. 


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