Last year, GMT Games announced a new game in their Monthly Update email called Baltic Empires: The Northern Wars of 1558-1721 from a new designer Brian Asklev. The game was described in that announcement as “…an approachable 2-5 player strategy game about conflicts between the states of the Baltic region during the early modern era, a transformative period of religious conflict, large scale warfare, and constant struggles for power. Players will have to develop their economy, strengthen their administration, secure trade hubs, and finally build armies to become the dominant power of the Baltics.

I don’t know about you guys and gals but when I read that a wargame includes all of those elements in one box I sit up and take notice. Any war must be supported by a robust economy as well as by great commanders leading well trained and disciplined troops on the battlefield. They go hand in hand but are so often overlooked or not included in a good wargame. Not to mention that my father’s maternal line comes through Lithuania as my grandmother’s family name was Orlak and I have roughly 33% Baltic DNA in my makeup. All of this combined to get me interested in this one and I reached out to Brian Asklev, through his Developer Joe Dewhurst, and Brian was more than willing to provide information on the game.

Since that time, we have agreed to provide a home for this series of quick articles on the History Behind the Cards involved in the game, which are called the Dramatis Personae Cards, as the design continues to move through development and playtesting. Each turn, 5 Dramatis Personae Cards are randomly drawn from the deck and become available for purchase by the players in the Production phase. These cards have a wide variety of effects, but can be broadly divided into 4 types: those that have permanent effects, those that have one-time effects, those that affect victory conditions, and those that provide a special leader unit. We appreciate Brian’s effort in putting these together and we look forward to sharing them with you over the next few months.

*Note: The cards and their text, as well as any pictures used showing any of the various components, are still in their final design and are intended to be illustrative at this point. Also remember that card effects and text might still change prior to final development and publication.

History Behind the Cards – Tsar Boris Godunov and Corfitz Ulfeldt

#41 Tsar Boris Godunov (1551-1606) – Permanent Effect

After the death of Ivan the Terrible in 1584, Boris Godunov became de facto ruler of Russia, as part of a regency council ruling on behalf of Ivan’s young successor Feodor I from 1585. Following the death of both Feodor and Ivan´s other son Dmitry, Godunov became Tsar himself in 1598. Godunov´s most important domestic reform was the institution of serfdom in its most oppressive form, as peasants were forbidden to transfer from one landowner to another, and were thus utterly bound to the soil in order to increase revenue. At the end of his reign Russia descended into its chaotic Time of Troubles period.

The “+” icon on the top right of the card tells us that this card´s effect applies every round while it is in the player’s Court. Godunov´s domestic reforms and his implementation of serfdom, which gave the ruling classes far more control over the peasants on their lands, is represented in the game by reducing the cost of building workshops on those Goods types that would traditionally be produced by the peasantry in the countryside: Grain, Hemp and Flax. To prevent the card from being overpowered and disturbing the balance of the game in certain situations, its effect is limited to the first three Workshops built during each Production Phase – still a large number! The increased control over the peasantry also led naturally to lower domestic production costs, which made Russia´s merchants more competitive on the foreign markets and is represented by a +1 bonus to the Mercantile Hegemony Track.

#33 Corfitz Ulfeldt (1606-1664) – Immediate Effect

A prototype of the traitor in Danish history, Ulfeldt was a well-educated statesman who won the favor of King Christian IV and married his daughter Leonora Christine, and became Steward of the Realm in 1643. He fell from favor due to his responsibility for the war against Sweden and the Netherlands in 1643-45, his extremely expensive lifestyle, and allegations of a plot to poison the royal family, and hastily left the country. He later reappeared in the service of the Swedish King Charles X in the war of 1657-58, where he undermined Danish resistance and loaned the Swedes money he had embezzled from the Danish state. He subsequently tried to intrigue against the Swedish king and was forced to flee back to Denmark where he was imprisoned. Upon release he hatched a plot to offer the Danish crown to the Elector of Brandenburg, who betrayed him, forcing him to flee again to avoid a death penalty.

The empty icon on the card tells us that this is a one-time only effect, and as the text reveals it is one that has be used immediately when a player buys it during the Production Phase. Just as Ulfeldt historically betrayed Denmark and went into the service of their Swedish rivals, the card represents the scheming of one power to persuade one or more key figures of an opposing power to defect or otherwise cause great disruption. In the game this allows you to choose any card in the targeted player’s Court and discard it – thus representing the targeted Dramatis Personae going “Ulfeldt” and becoming a traitor. However, the Ulfeldt card itself is also discarded immediately, so the practical value of this card in the game will depend greatly on the situation and which Dramatis Personae cards are in your opponent’s courts.

Next up in the series will be a look at Joachim Frederik Blumenthal (1606-1657) and Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1595-1657).

If you are interested in Baltic Empires: The Northern Wars of 1558-1721, you can pre-order a copy for the special P500 price of $65.00 from the GMT Games website at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-954-baltic-empires-the-northern-wars-of-1558-1721.aspx

We also published an interview with designer Brian Asklev and if you are interested you can read that at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2022/03/28/interview-with-brian-asklev-designer-of-baltic-empires-the-northern-wars-of-1558-1721-from-gmt-games/

-Grant