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Subject: Initial Impressions & Overview rss

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Steve Carey
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Seriousness and pleasure should thrive together.
- Allvar och gamman trives gärna samman.
(Swedish proverb)



INTRODUCTION

GMT's Pax Baltica (the Great Northern War, 1700-1721) is a refurbishing of a strictly limited 2009 release from Sweden's Three Crowns Game Publications. My intent here is not to give a detailed review of the game, but instead to convey an initial overview so that others may decide now if this new release might be right for them (or not). I will not be discussing rules or mechanics per se, but instead will be focusing on my general impressions, along with several play observations.



PRODUCTION

Shout it out, this is one beautiful package. The box is just as evocative as it is seductive, while the full-color slick rule and play books are nothing short of luscious. Thankfully the blocks in my set were flawless, and arrived with several spares just in case of a problem. The unit stickers are varied and easy to apply. Two handy player aid cards are also included. I play under plexiglass, so the thick cardstock map is a perfect compromise between a paper and a mounted board. The colorful map itself is attractive, in a hobby classic sort of way; its functional simplicity has steadily grown on me.



RULES

How refreshing it is to immerse oneself in such a well-developed game. I did commit a handful of gaffes during early play sessions, only to discover that all of the items were properly covered in the rules. The playbook ranks as one of the finest I've ever seen: 4 scenarios, a vast amount of military and personal background information (e.g., Russia's Peter the Great forming the so-called All Drunken Assembly based on things like gluttony and mass alcohol consumption), abundant strategy tips, a lengthy gazetteer (thank goodness), and an illustrated extended-example-of-play. One could hardly ask for more.



PLAY

I was pleasantly surprised with the design's ease of accessibility, in addition to how fluid gameplay was and how quickly things moved along. Being a block game, there are a few intrinsic yet familiar quirks that players need to be mindful of, plus there are a grouping of nationality specific rules (for Sweden, Russia, Poland, Saxony, Hannover, Denmark, Prussia, etc.) that are relatively quick to absorb. Combat is via the tried-and-true Columbia block A/B/C/D ranked method, which works out well. The political situation is represented in slim fashion. The siege rules are crisp and don't bog down play (each siege is all-or-nothing). Supply (forage) is practically effortless. Fleets are present to transport troops and to contest the seas. Blocks (armies and regiments) are individually rated and named. There is additional chrome present, but nothing is too onerous. This is a design that in its sum plays out smoothly.



SOLITAIRE

I was also surprised by how enjoyable this one flows solitaire. There is quite a bit of uncertainty and chaos present with the various action, event, ally, and battle rolls, all which benefit solo play. Further, the fog-of-war element is not as strong here as in some other block games that I've previously encountered, so I simply played with all the units face-up without any perceived detriment (other than rendering the reconnaissance action moot).



WHAT I'D LIKE TO SEE

A small selection of memory aid markers (for battle declaration order, reserves in combat, required force march chance, national politics rolled this Year, etc.) would have been nice, but none are even remotely necessary. Likewise, a Hannoverian army sticker for when that nation is a Swedish ally should have probably been included. Additional scenarios that range within the two decade long conflict could warrant future consideration. Finally, a computer Vassal module has just been issued, so the stellar product support continues.



CONCLUSIONS

I won't be rating this game just yet as there is still more for me to explore. Suffice to say that Pax Baltica is a medium-complexity game (not simulation) that is well-crafted and fun to play. It covers a period and place in history that I know very little about, and thus comes as a welcome change of pace. Indeed, the rich relationship between play narrative and the historical situation as presented is quite fascinating.

I am very happy with this purchase, which initially was nothing more than an impulse buy (I am not a block game aficionado). It has turned out to be so much more - what we have here is some serious strategy and pleasurable gaming in wonderful combination. Three Crowns is planning on soon issuing a companion title (A Vacant Throne), and if that design ever makes GMT's P500 list, I will be one of the first in line to pre-order.

While I may not be able to pronounce the majority of territorial names on the map, I can pronounce that this game is an inviting and satisfying experience. At the moment, I can't think of any notable flaws to speak of. A compelling creature, it has dominated my table - as well as my thoughts - these past few days. With Pax Baltica, the wargaming new year is off to a great start.
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Jonathan Holen
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Map looks real nice! Looking forward to hearing your full conclusion after some more play time.
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chuckster williams
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I plan on playing my blocks face up, also. However, if the attacker has less blocks than the defender, the attacker must use the Recon Action.

I must say I was pleasantly surprised by this little gem. I bought in on a lark and I'm glad I did. I found the map to be much better looking than the photos. I did hear some grumbling about the name of provinces. I can't pronounce them anyhow, so it doesn't bother me about how historically accurate they are. Sir, I agree with you, this is one fine game worth the money.
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Magnus Nordlöf
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Steve Carey wrote:


I am very happy with this purchase, which initially was nothing more than an impulse buy (I am not a block game aficionado). It has turned out to be so much more - what we have here is some serious strategy and pleasurable gaming in wonderful combination. Three Crowns is planning on soon issuing a companion title (A Vacant Throne), and if that design ever makes GMT's P500 list, I will be one of the first in line to pre-order.
.

3CG will issue a Guerilla Print during 2013 on A Throne Vacant (ATV). Planned production is about 50-100 games, depending on how much capital we have available. Please check in on www.3cg.se to reserve a copy. (No pre-order obligation here)
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Johan R
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Great review. Thank you.

The situation is interesting. Think for example of the vast distances covered. The map is about the size of your average East Front game. The units (armies) on the other hand, represent about fifteen thousand men, a division in WWII. Sweden has four armies and must try to fend off attacks from three countries!
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Steve Carey
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jholen wrote:
Map looks real nice!

It is - if anything, I understated its beauty.

Map art by Charlie Kibler.
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Charles Vasey
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magnno wrote:
Steve Carey wrote:


I am very happy with this purchase, which initially was nothing more than an impulse buy (I am not a block game aficionado). It has turned out to be so much more - what we have here is some serious strategy and pleasurable gaming in wonderful combination. Three Crowns is planning on soon issuing a companion title (A Vacant Throne), and if that design ever makes GMT's P500 list, I will be one of the first in line to pre-order.
.

3CG will issue a Guerilla Print during 2013 on A Throne Vacant (ATV). Planned production is about 50-100 games, depending on how much capital we have available. Please check in on www.3cg.se to reserve a copy. (No pre-order obligation here)

Excellent News
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Richard Nelson

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It's pleasing to see that this game is so accessible for those less familiar with the topic. I pre-ordered mine as soon as GMT announced it in 2009 (after unsuccessfully seeking the Three Crowns version online). I hope very much that this game leads to greater interest in the overall subject and its many interrelated conflicts, as there are many, many potential subjects of great wargames available in the various wars Poland and its neighbors were part of between the end of the Teutonic Order and the end of the War of Austrian Succession--and they are truly fascinating in their scope and variety. You might even get used to pronouncing the various names too (and coping with the various spellings, such as those for Bogdan Khemlnytsky) and learn that such a name ending in i is Polish spelling, in y is Ukrainian. I stumbled into these wars after reading William Urban's interesting book "The Teutonic Knights". I found I was wandering on into a whole new world of sweeping conflict, empires, and towering personalities virtually unknown to us here in the West. How about a Polish king who was first a Roman Catholic cardinal, but resigned the position to be electable as king of Poland (Jan Kazimierz--John II Casimir)? I would suggest that as the Great Northern War was one of a chain of conflicts that what is more commonly called the Second Northern War here in the Western world (and simply The Deluge in Poland) would be another terrific topic for a related game, particularly if it also addressed the prelude, Khemlytysky's Rebellion of 1648. It's a fascinating period and subject, my friends, well worth investing some time and research in...and hopefully, one day being a subject of additional games as beautiful and intriguing as Pax Baltica. Meanwhile, let's enjoy this sumptuous gem from GMT!
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Steve Carey
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Sky Horse wrote:
Meanwhile, let's enjoy this sumptuous gem from GMT!

I definitely still am, Richard - even playing the opening scenario (A1) for the third time tonight, I was able to explore some new strategies in a very tense contest that came down to the last die roll (a Russian siege of Riga fell 1 hit short of capturing the garrison, and thus the Swedes barely held on for a minor victory).

Great fun!
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Stefan Ekström
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Thanks Steve for a great review.

Guys, I'm glad to hear you all enjoy Görans and mine creation.

Thanks Scott for your strong arms holding the project afloat and for polishing the rules.

//Stefan Ekström
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Randy N
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Excellent review! Thanks.
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Ben Waterhouse
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Yep, that's done it fer me, cheque in the post to my game monger.
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