In this series covering the inside details and mechanics of the introductory level wargame Brave Little Belgium from Hollandspiele, we will uncover some of the interesting elements that make this game about the German invasion of Belgium in 1914 unique. In Action Point 1, we took a look at the very well done Chit Pull System that is used to activate units. In Action Point 2, we examined a few different types of Combat, including Combat in City Boxes, Siege Combat and Combat in Forts. In this final Action Point, we will look at the enigmatic Garde Civique hidden units.
From Wikipedia, we read the following about the Garde Civique:
The Garde Civique or “Civic Guard” was a Belgian paramilitary militia which existed between 1830 and 1920. Created in October 1830 shortly after the Belgian Revolution, the Guard amalgamated the various militia groups which had been created by the middle classes to protect property during times of political uncertainty. Its role was as a quasi-military “gendarmerie”, with the primary role of maintaining social order within Belgium. Increasingly anachronistic, it was demobilised in 1914 and officially disbanded in 1920, following a disappointing performance during the German invasion of Belgium in World War I.
The Garde Civique were mobilized following the German invasion of Belgium on 4 August 1914. Their intended functions were to secure lines of communication, guard bridges and other installations, escort prisoners and maintain order outside the actual areas of combat. The German military authorities however chose to regard members of the Garde as irregulars and, as such, not under the protection of international law if taken prisoner. Demands were made that they be disarmed and disbanded. In view of the German shooting of Belgian civilian hostages during the early stages of the invasion such threats were taken seriously and on 13 October 1914 King Albert I decreed the dissolution of the Garde. Most of its younger members transferred to the regular Belgian Army.
I love how the design team were true to the history of this brave but underpowered civilian force who were simply thrust into the role of defending their country against the oncoming tide of trained German troops. The aspect of atrocities was incorporated into the design, as discussed in Action Point 1, and the feel of the Group was also incorporated with the method of setup as it is random and there never is a guarantee that the unit stationed in a particular City Box will be there once the Germans show up (as represented by a blank Counter once revealed).
The Garde Civique are represented in Brave Little Belgium by 12 counters that have a question mark on their visible side with either a blank opposite side or one of several units with different combat strengths. As shown in the picture below, of the 12 counters 3 are blank once revealed, 3 counters each have a combat strength of 4, 5 and 6.
The setup process for the Garde Civique is pretty simple and is randomized, partly because this is very thematic of the fierce and their capabilities, but also because it makes each game play slightly different creating a different challenge for both the attacking German player and the defending Entente player.
You will randomize the twelve Garde Civique face-down (showing their “?” side). For each counter, roll two dice and check the Garde Civique Setup Chart pictured below. You will roll the first die which will determine the row and the second die will determine the column. Then simply place the counter with its “?” side up in the indicated Box (if the roll is a 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5 or 6-6, or None, put that counter back in the game box as it will not be placed). No peeking though as you are not allowed to examine the counters. Their strength is a secret even to the Entente player which is pretty cool in my mind. Two Garde Civique counters may be placed in the same Box, but if the roll would place a third, you then re-roll.
There is a variant that allows the Entente player to choose how they wish to setup the Garde Civique counters. The counters are still randomized face-down and cannot be examined. They may only be placed in the boxes listed in the Garde Civique Set-Up Chart. When using this method, the Entente player cannot place more than one Garde Civique unit within a single box. This variant does favor the Entente player so keep that in mind.
The picture above is a fairly typical example of setup and shows the Garde Civique Units pretty evenly distributed around the board. The Garde Civique are static units and cannot move so their true role is to act as detours or speed bumps to the German advance. Remember that Combat lasts only one round so it is possible that one or two Garde Civique Units can delay a German Army a turn or two by simply surviving. If they happen to be placed within one of the Fort Boxes (in Namur with a roll of 2-3 or Liege with a roll of 1-4) they can be the difference between taking 2 or 3 rounds for the Germans to destroy the Fort. Remember, it is not really likely that the Entente player will defeat the German player by force of arms. Time and delay is how they will win.
I hope that this series has given you a good feel for the mechanics of Brave Little Belgium. The game is an excellent introduction to wargaming, sets up quickly and plays within an hour. But the game also offers some great strategic dilemmas for both sides. The Germans have to destroy the Forts at Liege and Namur and must get an Infantry unit across the Victory line and occupy one City Box in one of Valenciennes, Ath, Ghent or Antwerp. This can be done by taking a southern route toward Valenciennes, central route toward Ath or a northern route toward Ghent or Antwerp. None of these routes are easy but the German player must make good progress over the first few turns toward destroying the Forts and then must make their sprint to the Victory line. The Entente player must be good at hitting key choke points and slowing down the advance moving key units, such as the French 4th and 5th Armies, to attack German Units as they siege Forts or to bolster those defenses drawing out the siege. Finally, the powerful BEF can be used to dislodge a German Army once they have entered one of their target cities across the Victory line. Overall, a well designed game with simple rules that allows for multiple plays. Enjoy!
We also recently were able to post our video review of the game so check that out.