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 – Janusz & Boguslav Radziwill and Louis de Geer
#10 Janusz & Boguslav Radziwill (1612-1655 & 1620-1669) – Immediate Effect
The wealthy and powerful Lithuanian noble magnate Radziwill family had been strong opponents of the Polish-dominated state for decades. In 1648, the start of the chaotic period known as the Deluge, Janusz Radziwill was one of the most powerful men of the Commonwealth and de facto ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. During the war with Sweden of 1655-60 he, and his cousin Boguslav, sided with the Swedish King Charles X, aiming to break up the Polish-Lithuanian union in favor of a Swedish-Lithuanian union. This move ostracized them from most of the other nobles, and their rebellion was eventually defeated. Janusz died during the war, while Boguslav narrowly avoided being sold into slavery by Tartars and would eventually end his days in exile in Prussia. Today the cousins are ill-remembered in Poland and considered responsible for the end of the golden age of the Commonwealth – partly because of the negative portrayal of them in Henryk Sienkiewicz’s famous trilogy of books on the Deluge in Poland. In Lithuania, by contrast, they are remembered as great defenders of freedom.
Your support of rebellious nobles from one of the major noble houses from an enemy power is represented in the game by one of two effects that must be chosen immediately upon adding the Radziwills card to your court. Elements of the army controlled by the rebels can change sides and join you, which is represented by exchanging one of their units with one of yours (note that this cannot affect Ship of the Line or Fortress units as these tended to be more under the direct control of the ruler). Alternatively, the effect of the defection can be more political in nature, represented by you discarding a randomly selected Dramatis Personae Card from the targeted enemy power. Contrary to the Ulfeldt card from the previous article, the massive disruption of internal politics caused by the defection of such powerful nobles is not entirely predictable, which is why you don’t get to choose which card is discarded. But on the other hand, the continued backing of these nobles mean that the Radziwill card itself is not discarded when used and will thus stay in your Court after its one-time use. This has some positive benefits as the number of cards in your Court increase your Loan limit and, in the case of Prussia, even helps you achieve your National Ambition victory condition.
#12 Louis de Geer (1587-1652) – Permanent Effect
Louis de Geer was an entrepreneur and industrialist of Walloon origin, and is considered by many to be the father of Swedish industry as he introduced the Walloon blast furnaces to the country. He started his business in the Baltic Region by delivering weapons to Sweden in 1618 during the Thirty Years War, and was allowed by King Gustav II Adolf to establish a workshop in Sweden where he received a monopoly on the copper and iron trade. During the Torstenson War of 1643-45, he served Sweden by going to Amsterdam and equipping an armada of ships to sail against Denmark. His commercial achievements also include the founding of the Swedish Africa Company.
The effect of de Geer´s domestic arms production is represented by reducing the cost of units if one of the Goods used to produce them is Copper or Iron (the resources historically needed to produce weapons and armor). The cost of building units varies from 2 to 5 Resources, depending on which unit type it is and what Power is building them, so a discount of 1 is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Having de Geer in your Court is obviously of most use to players whose realms hold a lot of Workshops on these resources, and both historically and in the game these are mainly found in Scandinavia, but there are also mines near Moscow, Cracow, and central Germany, allowing any Power to potentially make use of this card.
Next up in the series will be a look at Georg von Derfflinger (1606-1695) and The False Dmitrys (1582-1591).
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
#27 King Sigismund III Vasa and #9 Maurice of Nassau
#28 Thomas Roe and #37 Markus Fugger
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