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 – Joachim Frederik Blumenthal and Bohdan Khmelnytsky
#29 Joachim Frederik Blumenthal (1606-1657) – Permanent Effect
A German nobleman and diplomat in his native Brandenburg during the tumultuous years of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), Blumenthal belonged to the pro-Imperial faction at court and was part of the conspiracy to assassinate the Holy Roman Emperor´s powerful but too independent-minded warlord Wallenstein. Blumenthal served as both Brandenburg´s and the Holy Roman Empire’s representatives at the Peace of Westphalia, and after the war he became the President of the Privy Council in Brandenburg and the Great Elector’s representative in the Imperial Diet. As President of the Privy Council, he laid the economic and administrative framework for a standing army. His lenient policies towards religious minorities meant that many skilled artisans, officers, and administrators sought service with the Great Elector.
The “+” icon on the card tells us that this card’s effect applies every round while it is in the player’s Court. Blumenthal’s policies of leniency towards minorities is represented in the game in several ways. Firstly, it reduces the cost of future Dramatis Personae Cards for your Power, as more people of skill will be attracted to join your Court. This can make quite a big difference during play and can make aggressive recruitment of Dramatis Personae possible, with all the benefits that might entail for your Power. The influx of skilled artisans to your realm is also represented by a +3 bonus to your Production Hegemon Track. Finally, the Blumenthal card cancels the penalty to Production costs in Provinces of a different religion to your Power, which will be huge boost for powers ruling over religiously diverse lands.
#6 Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1595-1657) – Leader Effect
Khmelnytsky, a Zaporozhian Cossack with a Polish father, was educated at a Jesuit College despite being orthodox. In 1620 he became a prisoner of war and spent 2 years as a slave in the Ottoman Empire before returning home. Disputes over autonomy between the Catholic Polish magnates and the Orthodox Cossacks inhabiting the south-eastern part of the Commonwealth had been a long running theme in Polish affairs. When the great magnate Stanislaw Koniecpolski died, his successor laid claim to Khmelnytsky’s estates. When even the Polish king, who desperately needed Cossack assistance in his foreign wars, couldn’t rein in the powerful magnates, Khmelnytsky started a destructive Cossack uprising in 1648. This uprising would grow in size and scope and end with him being elected Hetman of the Cossack Host and the creation of a Cossack state allied with Moscow in 1654.
The “soldier” icon on the card tells us that this card gives you a leader unit with special abilities. Normally such leader units are placed in your Capital Province, but Khmelnytsky is different. As he doesn’t represent an officer in your army like other leader units, but rather a regional separatist uprising, he can be placed in any enemy Province that has a different religion to the Power ruling over it. Khmelnytsky tapped into deep tensions and mutual grievances within the Commonwealth and the Cossack uprising quickly became incredibly destructive, represented in the game by having him immediately Ravage both the Province he is placed in and any future Province he enters. Ravaging in game terms is removing a City or Workshop from the province and is normally voluntary and only done after clearing a province of enemy units. By building this Dramatis Personae Card your power is supporting Khmelnytsky´s uprising and thus controlling his unit on the board, but as he fights for the interests of his own people Khmelnytsky cannot take over control of provinces, instead just serving as he did historically as a great tool for hurting your enemies.
Next up in the series will be a look at King Sigismund III Vasa (1566-1632) and Maurice of Nassau (1567-1625).
If you missed the previous entry in the series, you can catch up on the posts to date by following the below links:
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/