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Subject: An Epic Game for an Epic Clash rss

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Tim Parker
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Three greatest chess players ever: Bobby Fischer, Mikhail Tal, and Victor Korchnoi.
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Pax Baltica: An Epic Game for an Epic Clash!

Pax Baltica is two player block game that covers the Great Northern War (1700-21) the last of a series of conflicts that began in the 1550’s. In the game, one player controls Sweden lead by the redoubtable Karl XII and the other controls a coalition consisting primarily of Russia and Saxony led by the inimitable Peter the Great. The game is divided into years with seasonal segments wherein the adversaries can move, fight, and resupply their armies and fleets. The key to the game is capturing enemy territory: each space captured reduces the enemy’s ability to rebuild their units and, if it reaches zero, forces them to accept a truce. The campaign game can end only one of two ways: either Karl XII forces a truce on the coalition or Peter the Great and his allies force Sweden into a truce.

Playing Time: This is a very long game but it covers a very long war so that is quite understandable, IMO. There are a few smaller scenarios but due to their shorter playing length they do not convey the ebb and flow of the struggle as countries enter and leave and renter yet again. So the campaign game in all its 88 turn glory is best. However, even though the whole war scenario is very length, the random activations each turn keeps the players on their toes and engaged.

Map: The map covers the key area of the war from Norway to Lake Ladoga and from Sweden and Norway to the Ottoman Empire. The map is dived into areas defined by boundaries based on how many blocks can move through that space each turn. Each area has key information regarding forage (supply) and garrisons. The color scheme of the map is very well done and it easy to see where each nation begins and ends as this in game photo shows.



The map also contains the sequence of play, turn chart, and replacement track. Most of the time that map is not too crowded as the rules only allow one player to have blocks in a space at the end of the seasonal turn. My only complaint about the map is certain spaces it is hard to tell which borders are classified as difficult rather than regular.

Playing Pieces: This is a block game and the pieces come in three types: armies, regiments, and fleets. The color scheme of each block again makes identifying countries very easy. The blocks are easy to read and pithy in the information they convey.



As with most block games, it is important to make sure you carefully center the stickers when applying them. In Pax Baltic, this is even more important as reinforcements are placed face down and you blindly draw them so if you have a sticker that sticks out (so to speak) it can give a country an edge when drawing as well as the enemy if they have a good memory.

Rules:
A key concept in Pax Baltica is the activation phase where each player rolls to determine how many actions they have for each season. Players then use those actions move, fight and supply their troops. There are also random events which can cause a player to basically lose their chance to take any actions in a given season.

Some other key points…

Movement: Pieces have normal and forced march ability. You can also transport armies and regiments by sea.

Combat: This is based on letter priority for who fires when, to hit numbers, and pips on the block that tell you how many dice to roll. Combat can last three rounds and battles use a reserve system similar to Prussia’s Defiant Stand but not as cumbersome, IMO. Units can retreat after any combat round. Once completed, there is an opportunity to regroup your forces to avoid losing steps due to supply.
Siege combat is simple but vital for control a space and thus reducing the opponents replacement points. The most important rule to remember on sieges is the limitations of regiments.

Supply: This is pretty wide open with spaces having a forage value which is used to quickly calculate who is supplied and who will have to lose steps. Armies have supply trains that help mitigate negative effects.

Stacking: No limit but this game definitely encourages the players to follow the old maxim of march dispersed and fight concentrated.

Reinforcements and replacements: Reinforcements are entered between yearly campaigns and are drawn randomly. Replacements are mainly received at that time as well but you can spend an action during to turn to replace steps as well.

Things I like about the game

1 The actions. Since you roll dice each turn you never know how many actions you will get or whether you will go first or second. This keeps each turn interesting and fun.
2 The random events. Especially at this time in history some unforeseen situation could really gum up with works and distract leaders from executing their plans.
3 The game reflects the time period well. Marching about, avoiding battle after battle until the right moment captures warfare the dawn of the 18th Century.
4 Shifting alliances. If someone gets knocked out of the game, you never know when (if ever) they will return.
5 The combat system using letter priority. This makes for interesting fights and can also be very frustrating if you concentrate some forces only to discover that the enemy has a higher letter and just retreat before you can even strike angry shake
6 This plays really well solo. Granted block games can be tricky but the variable activations, order of play, random draw of reinforcements and events makes for a great solitaire experience.
6 1 The great player aid cards. All the information you need including all the little national characteristics of each country are conveniently organized nicely on one card.

Things that can be annoying angry

1 Random reinforcements. This can be aggravating if you draw a bunch of regiments when all you really want is that ^#@* army that was destroyed over the summer!!!!!
2 The scenario set up instructions are a bit too pithy. A little more detail would’ve been nice
3 The impact of capturing territories on replacements. Most of the time, we wargamers think that if I capture your turf, you go down on some scale and I go up. Not here. It only hurts your enemy and gives you no benefit gulp



Overall Evaluation: d10-9 =wargamer heaven d10-1 =I’d rather staple my tongue to the wall for a month! yuk

Map= d10-8 Very nice to look at and easy to read.

Playing Pieces= d10-9 Nice large blocks that are easy to read. A feast for old eyes like mine

Deployment of Forces= d10-8 Takes a matter of minutes. The biggest time consumer: shuffling up all the reinforcement blocks.

Solo Play= d10-7 The activation rolls act remind me of chit draws. Throw in the events and random reinforcements you never know what is coming from year to year.

Final Evaluation= d10-8 This is another great block game. First, there are not a lot of playing pieces so the game moves pretty quick. Second, the rules are pithy and easy to learn yet they reflect the time period very well, IMO. Third, just the fact that this is a game on the Great Northern War scores big points thumbsup Finally, the little nuances that are only revealed in game play keep makes this an interesting and interactive gaming experience.

Bottom Line: This is a great game on an often forgotten and under appreciated conflict that still shapes the world today. While the game is long, it is worth the time and effort to experience this epic clash. While some may say that the game can get a bit stale, I think the game needs to be judged based on what it is rather than what it ought to be. While it may not have the variability that say Twilight Struggle or Carrier might contain, it is very good at what it does: depict the Great Northern War in all its knock down, drag’em out, fight to the finish glory. While this may not be a game that hits my table as often as a No Retreat: The Russian Front, when it does hit my table I will enjoy each and every moment as I recreate what is arguably the defining conflict of Northern European History.
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Roger Hobden
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Nice review !

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Mattias Elfström
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Great review!
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James Boyd
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thumbsupGreat Review thumbsup
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Steve Cooley
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Thank you for the excellent, and pithy, review!
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Roger Hobden
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How long did the campaign game last ?
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Tim Parker
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Mallet wrote:
How long did the campaign game last ?


It took nearly a week (but keep in mind I am a stay at home dad of of a little man who is 18 months old ) and ended in 1713.
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Karsten Engelmann
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Great review!
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Jim Marshall
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Could you quantify this in hours played?
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Tim Parker
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Jim Marshall wrote:
Could you quantify this in hours played?


9-10 is my best guesstimate
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Paul Liddle
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Thanks for a great review, you made my mind up for me and it's coming for my birthday.
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