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 – King Sigismund III Vasa and Maurice of Nassau
#27 King Sigismund III Vasa (1566-1632) – Alternative Victory Condition
Sigismund, son of King John III of Sweden and Catherine Jagiellon, the daughter of King Sigismund I of Poland, was elected monarch of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1587, and became King of Sweden in 1592. He sought to unify the two into one Catholic kingdom, and briefly succeeded upon the creation of the Polish-Swedish union in 1592. He was also a Catholic zealot who imposed Roman Catholic doctrine across his realms and granted many privileges to the Jesuits. However, his staunch indoctrination of largely Protestant Sweden caused a war of independence headed by Sigismund’s uncle Charles IX, who deposed him in 1599. Sigismund’s and his successors continued claim to the Swedish throne and were a cause of tension and war between the two countries for the first half of the 17th century. His rule in Poland was a period of successful territorial expansion and prosperity, but also one of internal struggles as he attempted to hold absolute power and frequently undermined the historically strong and independent parliament.
The “laurel wreath” icon tells us that this card alters your Power’s Victory Conditions. The dynastic struggle historically waged by Sigismund Vasa as he attempted to use the resources and power granted him as King of Poland-Lithuania to further his continued claim on the Swedish throne, despite the lack of domestic support for this goal, is represented by the player replacing their Power’s normal National Ambition with Sigismund Vasa’s own goal: to take back the throne he felt cheated of. To make the card function for every Power in the game and to represent how any number of internal power struggles or other perceived slights in the era could have resulted in a similar situation, the player who adds this card to their Court makes an immediate decision on which throne they feel robbed of, and places that Power’s control marker on the card to indicate that their new National Ambition is to control its Capital Province.
#9 Maurice of Nassau (1567-1625) – Permanent Effect
Maurice was a stadtholder in the Netherlands and a key figure in organizing the Dutch rebellion against Spain in the 80 Years War (1568-48). He won fame for his pioneering theoretical work on armaments, drill, and tactics, which founded a whole new school of military professional practice by revising the classic Roman doctrines of Vegetius for the age of gunpowder weapons. Many of the greatest generals of the age served with him at some point, such as the French Marshal Turenne and the Swedish Gustavus Adolphus, and they applied his reforms to great effect in the 17th century. The island of Mauritius was named after Maurice of Nassau in 1598.
As noted above, Nassau’s military theories were highly influential across Europe in this period. Adding this Dramatis Personae to your court represents your Power undertaking massive military reforms inspired by these theories, and will result in increasing the lethality of your infantry by allowing you to treat one Infantry “MISS?” result as a “Hit” in each battle. As Gustavus Adolphus was one of Maurice´s pupils, the Swedish player’s innate special rule is identical to this card. This allows other Powers’ Infantry to become as proficient in firepower as the Swedish if they add Maurice of Nassau to their court, and if the Swedish player manages to add him the effect will effectively be doubled and apply to two such results in each battle, making their Infantry very deadly indeed.
Next up in the series will be a look at Thomas Roe (1581-1644) and Markus Fugger (1529-1597).
If you missed the previous entries in the series, you can catch up on the posts to date by following the below links:
#41 Tsar Boris Godunov and #33 Corfitz Ulfeldt
#29 Joachim Frederik Blumenthal and #6 Bohdan Khmelnytsky
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/