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 – Georg von Derfflinger and The False Dmitrys

#17 Georg von Derfflinger (1606-1695) – Leader Effect

Born in Austria into a poor Protestant peasant family who were forced to flee from religious persecution, Derfflinger became a soldier at a young age and fought in the Saxon and Swedish Armies during the Thirty Years War (1618-48). After the war he was offered a senior position in the Brandenburg Army. Derfflinger was a notorious drunkard with a fondness for schnapps, but this never impeded his military abilities. He is mostly known for his exploits during the Scanian War of 1675-79 against the Swedes, where he was instrumental in the quick redeployment of the Brandenburg Army prior to the key battle of Fehrbellin, and persuaded the fortress of Rathenow to surrender by impersonating a Swedish officer. His relationship with the Elector of Brandenburg was stormy, and at one time Derfflinger demanded that no man charge into battle ahead of him and required a promise of plunder if he were to continue in his service. He was a soldier into old age and fought his last campaign at the age of 84.

As anyone can see from the above biography, no event card in the world could do justice to the absolutely fascinating personality and man of action that was Derfflinger! He was the father of the Prussian way of war, whose principles of speed, maneuver, and concentric attacks would guide the German Army up to the present day. In the game, Derfflinger´s card effect represents his dynamic and highly mobile operational style of warfare by giving him, and any Infantry units that move with him, the same movement speed as cavalry. In addition, he gives you a +2 bonus to your Military Hegemon Track, which makes it more likely that you will be the player who chooses the turn order in the critical War Phase, allowing you to strike exactly when you want to. 

#8 The False Dmitrys (1582 – 1591…or maybe not…) – Immediate Effect

Dmitry Ivanovich was the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible, and rightful heir to the throne after the deaths of both the Tsar’s first son Ivan (who was killed by Ivan the Terrible himself in a fit of rage), and the Tsar’s second son Feodor (who died childless as a young man). Dmitry himself died at the age of 8 in 1591. Much uncertainty and drama surround the events of his death, with accounts varying from ordered assassination by Boris Godunov to a violent accident during an epileptic fit. Following the death of Godunov, a range of imposters, known collectively as the “False Dmitrys” or “Pseudo-Demetrius”, from 1605 to 1612 in turn claimed to be Dmitry Ivanovich, having escaped the assassination attempt and lived in hiding ever since. These imposters all had large forces of supporters and backing by outside powers wishing to destabilize Russia, and this period of civil war is known as the Time of Troubles in Russia.

The False Dmitrys is the only Dramatis Personae Card in the game that represents a series of several historical characters not acting in unison, but instead having a similar effect. Adding this card to your court represents your power backing a pretender to the throne of another Power. The resultant economic disruption and uncertainty about the very legitimacy of their ruler caused by these false Dmitrys and the uprising of their followers is shown by immediately degrading an enemy Power’s level of control in up to 3 provinces. Provinces under Noble Control are greatly restricted in how much of the Goods and Thalers produced in there that go into their owner’s hands. Imposing Royal Control over a province requires the presence of a friendly unit and costs a number of resources that varies greatly from Power to Power, as some countries had stronger traditions and institutions of centralized authority than others. The affected Power will thus find that it takes time and effort to recover from their time of troubles – especially if your own Power doesn’t sit idly by, but combines its backing of a false Dmitry with an invasion.

Next up in the series will be a look at Tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725) and Tycho Brahe (1546-1601).

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

#10 Janusz & Boguslav Radziwill and #12 Louis de Geer

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:

We also published an interview with designer Brian Asklev and if you are interested you can read that at the following link: