Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Thunder Upon The Land

Some images from some recent board gaming:

Russian and Swedish positions at the start of the battle

The game is A Thunder Upon the Land. This game is from the most recent issue of Against the Odds magazine, and represents the battles of Narva and Poltava during the Great Northern War between King Charles XII of Sweden and Tsar Peter the Great of Russia.


Infantry of the Swedish right strike the breastworks sheltering the Russian left during a howling snowstorm. The Russian feudal infantry levies are badly handled.
The game shows some really high production values for being a magazine game. The counters are printed on thick stock and nicely die cut. The map is on heavy, glossy paper, and is quite large.

Simultaneously the Swedish left attacks but the Russian right is made of sterner stuff. The Swedes are thrown back in some confusion.
Paul Rohrbaugh's game design is not overly complex and plays quickly. Like a lot of Paul's  games this game uses a chit-pull system to activate the various commands of the two armies. This nicely simulates the ebb and flow of battle. Unlike the old IGO-YOUGO turn systems of the past, systems like this add a level of uncertainty to the game, because you generally won't know what part of your forces or the enemy's forces will move and attack next.

The Swedish right overwhelms a section of the line held by the Russian left. A combination of infantry volley fire and a cavalry attack leads to a local rout.
I had a bit of trouble wrapping my head around the combat calculations initially, but this was mostly due to my not reading the rules correctly. Once I got over that the game flowed smoothly and was a lot of fun to play.

This game illustrates one of the things that's bringing me back to board gaming. Try and find a decent computer-based representation of these two battles! I think you'll be really hard pressed to do so. And yet, the Great Northern War was very historically significant. The Swedes' loss at Poltava effectively ended their domination of the Baltic and their empire, and significantly aided Peter's efforts to modernize Russia. Poltava is in fact one of the more significant battles in history. I'm finding that outside of the very popular eras like WWII, computer game coverage of important battles and campaigns is sparse. If I want to examine battles and campaigns outside of the "popular" eras, board games are about the only way to do that.

Fortunately, it seems the hobby has rebounded from the dark days of the 1990's and there are some very innovative game systems available now. I actually spent more this month on board games than I did on computer games - and that the first time I've done that in at least twenty years.

I'm afraid I had to end the game before I played much further. My GMT order arrived and I was just too eager to give those games I try. More on that soon.