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.
#2 Tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725) – Permanent Effect
Peter was not born to be Tsar of Russia, but became so at the age of 10 after the death of his half-brother Tsar Feodor III. Initially he shared the throne with his other half-brother Ivan V, while Sophia Alekseyevna, the daughter of the late Tsar Alexis I, ruled as regent. As a child, Peter was not particularly interested in ruling, being more engaged in pastimes such as shipbuilding and sailing. Another big interest of his was organizing mock battles with his “toy army” – a group composed of other children, servants, and retainers. Over the years his toy army would grow to more than 300 men with professional instructors, and ended up forming the cadre of two regiments of the guard. Heavily inspired by Western Europe after extensive travels there, Peter became determined to reform Russia and led a cultural revolution to westernize Russia’s traditionalist and medieval social and political systems. One element of this forced westernization was a tax on beards! His reforms of the army were kickstarted by an infusion of western officers and instructors. Through military conquest against the Tartars and Swedes, he gained footholds on the Black Sea and Baltic Sea, and established Russia as a naval power. Under his rule Russia became a great power and was changed forever.
Peter the Great is one of the absolute superstars of history, and depicting him in a simple and elegant way was a challenge. After several, overly complex, versions I settled on the current one. It represents Peter’s thorough reforms of almost every aspect of Russian life and administration by giving the player a +2 bonus to their Mercantile Hegemon Track, a +1 to their Production Hegemon Track and a +2 to their Military Track. Beyond these Hegemon Track bonuses there is no other effect of the card. This might seem weak and slightly boring at first glance (and was also why the original versions of him had several other effects), but in play this will boost your chances of controlling the turn order in every phase of the game, as well as greatly boost your chances of pulling off a Cultural Hegemon win by being in the lead on all three Hegemon tracks at the same time.
#48 Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) – Permanent Effect and Alternative Victory Condition
Tycho Brahe was an astronomer who earned fame for his accurate and plentiful observations on stellar and planetary positions. Sent to universities in Copenhagen and Leipzig to study law, he instead focused on astronomy and other sciences. In 1566, Brahe lost part of his nose in a sword duel following a drunken quarrel over who was the superior mathematician. He would wear prosthetic noses for the rest of his life, and had noses in brass, silver, and gold so he could change for special occasions. In the 1570’s, King Frederik II of Denmark-Norway granted him the island of Hven, where he built his observatory Uranienborg, and royal support to Tycho eventually amounted to 1% of the crown´s annual total revenue. At Uranienborg, Brahe had a tame elk, which he would send as his representative to social gatherings he could not attend himself. The elk was treated as an important guest, and would die at such a party after drinking many beers and falling down a flight of stairs. Brahe was an influential scientist and today a great many and varied places are named in his honor, such as craters on both the Moon and Mars, the small planet “1677 Tycho Brahe”, and the bright supernova SN 1572, which is also known as Tycho’s Nova. Here on earth, Brahe Rock in Antarctica and the Tycho Brahe Planetarium in Copenhagen are named after him, as is the palm genus Brahea. Adding Tycho Brahe to your Court represents not just the sponsoring of the historical figure Tycho Brahe, but also the ambitions of your Power to become a center of science and learning throughout Europe and a source of respect and envy, thus winning you the game if the end situation is one where no Power is otherwise able to exert economic or military dominance over the region. As the Danish kings could historically attest to, the cost of sponsoring Brahe and his scientific peers was certainly not trivial, and this is shown in the game by having to discard a Good or Thaler every Production Phase while Brahe is in your Court, which can certainly add up over time if added in the early game (although it is also not uncommon to have a spare Good that cannot otherwise be usefully spent).
This is the final entry in the series so I want to thank Brian Asklev and Joe Dewhurst for their work on these articles and for thinking of us and granting us the opportunity to post them here for our readers.
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
#17 Georg von Derfflinger and #8 The False Dmitrys
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