#Wargame AAR – Defiant Poland in White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939 (@hollandspiele, 2020)

This weekend I put White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939 (Hollandspiele, 2020) on the gaming table. As I wrote recently, White Eagle Defiant is the latest game from Ryan Heilman and Dave Shaw based on their previous Brave Little Belgium (Hollandspiele, 2019). Both are billed as ‘gateway wargames’ but don’t let that put you off; White Eagle Defiant, like Brave Little Belgium before it, is another quick-play, easy-to-learn wargame that delivers an always tense situation full of challenging decisions.

In my campaign, the Germans started out on the backfoot. Army Group North (AGN), rather aggressively, directly attacked several Polish Forts (Torun, Modlin, and Lomza). All three attacks failed with heavy losses. These three (foolish?) attacks gutted AGN and severely weakened it for the entire campaign. Meanwhile, Army Group South (AGS) faced difficult terrain and advanced slowly against Katowicz and Krakow.

The slow pace of the German advance meant that Victory Points were slow to accumulate. Turn 4 (Sep 11-16) was especially challenging because the four End Turn chits came out before either AGN or AGS activated. This forced two Blitzkrieg Breakdown rolls, both of which failed. In White Eagle Defiant if the Germans accumulate five (5) Blitzkrieg Breakdown it is an automatic defeat. In one turn they had moved 2/5 of the way to losing.

Turn 5 (Sep 17-20) is important because this is the first turn the Soviets can enter. Fortunately for the Poles, the Germans needed to have at least 6 VP to trigger Soviet Entry and they only had 5 VP at the start of the turn – no Soviet entry. The situation did not get any better for the Germans the next turn where they still had only 5 VP holding off the Red Horde for another few days (the Soviets did not enter until Turn 7 (Sep 25-28)).

The next major Victory Check is on Turn 8 (Sep 29-Oct 2). If the Germans have at least 9 VP they win an Automatic Victory. However, the Polish Central Army had held strong and the Germans had 8 VP going into the turn – no auto victory. On the next turn (Turn 9, Oct 3-6) if the Germans have 9+ VP the game ends in a draw. Instead of game end, the Poles actually Liberated several cities the Germans left open as they tried to mass forces for a push against Warszawa.

Turn 10 (Oct 7-10) was the last chance for the Germans. Going into the turn with 6 VP, they needed at least 9 VP to achieve a Draw. The Polish assumed risk as they occupied three cities with single units.

German Attacks in Turn 10 – Poznan (left), Lodz (center), and Krakow (bottom)

The first battle was at Krakow where the Polish Prusy Cavalry fought two reduced 14th Infantry. The subsequent Polish defeat was very bittersweet as the Prusy Cavalry had ranged as far north as Danzig (which it Liberated for a while) and then back south. If there was a heroic Polish unit the Prusy Cavalry was the one.

Prusy Cavalry defeated at Krakow

The Poles were also defeated at Poznan. This brought the German VP total to 8 – one point away from a Draw.

Poles defeated at Poznan

This meant the final battle was at Lodz. Here, the Polish Narew Infantry of the North Army had moved south to bolster the defenses. Unfortunately, they were facing two full strength Panzer units, the 10th and 14th of AGS. Further, the Germans supported this attack with their Ju87 Stuka (+1 to one combat). In this alternate history, this battle would likely be the source of many Blitzkrieg myths. The Panzer units, each rolling 2d6, both rolled ‘boxcars’ which by the rules counts as four hits total – far more than the two hits needed to destroy the luckless Polish infantry unit.

German Panzers with Stuka dive-bombers utterly destroy the last Polish defenders in Lodz

The common myth of the German invasion of Poland in 1939 is that the campaign was a total walk-over for the Germans. Wargamers know this is not true. I previously played the chit-pull Poland Defiant: The German Invasion, 1939 (Revolution Games, 2019) and learned much about the campaign from that game. White Eagle Defiant delivers similar lessons. In this game, like history, the Poles are likely to lose, but they can make the Germans pay a stiff price for their victory.

End of German Invasion – technically a Draw as Poland has most definitely been DEFIANT

Most importantly to gamers, White Eagle Defiant delivers a game that is easy to learn (12 page rule book), quick to play (even my extended game took less than 90 minutes) and is very challenging (Turns 6 and 7 were very good for the Poles, and it was very tight up to the final battle on the last turn). White Eagle Defiant will certainly find its way to the gaming table again!

#Wargame Wedges – Early Thoughts on White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939 (@Hollandspiele, 2020)

I was very pleasantly surprised to see Hollandspiele release Ryan Heilman and Dave Shaw’s new White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939 this month. This design team previously brought us Brave Little Belgium, the wargame Tom Vassal hates. Which is sad because Brave Little Belgium is a great gateway wargame that should appeal to both wargamers and boardgamers looking for a little ‘conflict simulation’ to round out their collection. As I read the rules and get ready for my first play of White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939 (Hollandspiele, 2020) I have a few thoughts:

  • A series?: White Eagle Defiant shares many game mechanics of Brave Little Belgium. This makes it very easy for me to learn as I pay more attention to what’s different (some) compared to having to learn an entirely new game system. That said, White Eagle Defiant like Brave Little Belgium are small games with a single 17″x22″ map, 88 counters, and an eight-page rulebook. The design team of Heilman and Shaw supported by Tom & Mary Russell at Hollandspiele continue to impress me with their powerful small-package wargames.
  • Blitzkrieg Atrocities: In Brave Little Belgium, once the end of turn chits are drawn the German player has the option of trying to push on anyway, but the cost was possibly gaining Atrocities. Too many Atrocities leads to defeat. I was not sure how this would be handled in White Eagle Defiant. I am quite happy with the solution; Blitzkrieg Breakdown which I think captures the penalties of the Germans pushing their forces too far too fast.
  • Shipping: Some folks after looking at the picture I posted to Twitter asked if my box was damaged in shipping. The answer is yes, but not to the point I am going to demand a new one. I see many folks who demand a game be delivered in ‘perfect’ condition. After all, we usually paid a good deal of coin to buy the game so it should be ‘right’ in arrival! Thanks to the USPS, my box arrived with one corner slightly (and I mean slightly) crushed. What did I do? I opened the game box and carefully pushed the box corner back. Then I placed a heavy book (which few people apparently own these days) into the corner of the box overnight. It’s fine. Honestly, it looks no different than many of my boxes look after spending a few months on, and off, the gaming shelves.

The back of the box on White Eagle Defiant states, “If Brave Little Belgium was your first wargame, White Eagle Defiant could be your second. It builds on the slick foundations of the original while introducing additional complexity and nuance, such as specialized unit types and pincer attacks.” This old Grognard is certainly looking forward to the game!

RockyMountainNavy’s influential #wargame from the 2010’s (h/t to @playersaidblog for the idea)

Grant over on The Players Aid blog laid out his 15 Influential Wargames from the Decade 2010-2019. In the posting Grant asked for others to give their list. Although I have been a wargaming grognard since 1979 in the early 2010’s I was focused more on role playing games. That is, until 2016 when I turned back into hobby gaming and wargaming in particular. So yes, my list is a bit unbalanced and definitely favors the later-half of the decade. Here is my list of ‘influential’ games arranged by date of publication along with an explanation of why the title influences me.

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (second edition) – Academy Games, 2012

pic1236709_mdFor the longest time I considered myself near-exclusively a naval wargamer. I’m not sure why, but in early 2017 I picked up a copy of Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Second Edition). I think at the time I was looking for a good tactical WWII game to play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I am glad I did, as along the way I also discovered the excellent Firefight Generator and Solo Expansion, and eventually other titles to include the latest Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 (2019) where I have a small credit in the rulebook. This game, like no other, awakened me to the ‘new look’ of wargames and the positive influence the Eurogame segment of the hobby market can have on wargaming.

1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution – Academy Games, 2013

1775-header-v3In 2017 I attended the CONNECTIONS Wargaming Conference. There I met a fine gentleman, Uwe Eickert, of Academy Games. As we talked about his Conflict of Heroes series (I even helped him demo a few games) I mentioned my boys and our search for good family wargames. Uwe strongly recommended his Birth of America series, especially 1775 Rebellion. So I ordered it and the RMN Boys and myself sat down to play this lite-wargame – and we haven’t looked back since. We now own all the Birth of America and Birth of Europe series. 878 Vikings is one game the oldest (least gamer) RMN Boy will play with us. Most influential because it shows that there are much, much better ‘family-wargames’ than Risk. As an added bonus, I am working with one of my youngest boy’s high school teachers to bring this game into his classroom.

Next War: Poland  – GMT Games, 2015

569After attending CONNECTIONS 2017, I tried to become a bit of a wargaming advocate at my job. So I looked at more ‘serious’ wargames. One of the hot topics of the day is the Baltics and Russia. I looked for wargames that could build understanding of the issues, especially if it comes to open conflict. Sitting on my shelf from long ago was were several GMT Games ‘Crisis’ series titles, Crisis: Korea 1995 and Crisis: Sinai 1973. I had heard about updated versions but had been reluctant to seek them out. Now I went searching and found a wargame that is a master-level study into the military situation. This game influenced me because it shows that a commercial wargame can be used for ‘serious’ purposes.

Wing Leader: Victories, 1940 – 1942 – GMT Games, 2015

pic2569281Before 2017, an aerial combat wargame to me was a super-tactical study of aircraft, weapons, and maneuver. The most extreme version was Birds of Prey (Ad Astra, 2008) with it’s infamous ‘nomograph.’ I had all-but-given-up on air combat games until I discovered the Wing Leader series. But was this really air combat? I mean, the map is like a side-scroll video game? The first time I played the level of abstraction in combat resolution was jarring. But as I kept playing I discovered that Wing Leader, perhaps better than any other air combat game, really captures ‘why’ the war in the air takes place. Units have missions they must accomplish, and those missions are actually the focus of this game, not the minutia of flap settings or Pk of a missile hit. Influential because it shows me that model abstraction is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when done right like it is here.

Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection – GMT Games, 2016

582As I returned to wargaming in 2016-2017, I kept hearing about this thing called the COIN-series. I looked at a few titles but was not quite ready to go ‘full-waro’* so I backed off. At the same time, having moved to the East Coast, I was much more interested in the American Revolution. By late 2017 I was becoming more ‘waro-friendly’ so when I had a chance to purchase Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection I took it. I’m really glad I did. LoD is influential because it taught me that a wargame can be political and a real tool of learning. I understand that LoD is the designer’s ‘view’ of the American Revolution but I enjoy experimenting within that vision and seeing what I can learn.

Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution – Compass Games, 2017

cctri_ar_lgPrior to my wargaming renaissance, I acquired Memoir ’44 for the RockyMountainNavy Boys. We also had Battlelore and in an effort to entice the oldest RMN Boy (an ancient history lover) into gaming had given him Commands & Colors: Ancients. That is to say, Commands & Colors was not new to the RMN House. As part of my American Revolution kick I picked up Commands & Colors Tricorne thinking I would try to get the RMN Boys to play this version. Instead, I fell in love with the game. Influential because it showed me that with just a few simple rules tweaks a highly thematic, yet ‘authentic’, gaming experience is possible even with a simple game engine.

South China Sea – Compass Games, 2017

scs-cover-for-web_1Remember I said I was a naval wargamer? Notice the lack of naval wargames on this list? That’s because I found few that could match my experiences with the Victory Games Fleet-series of the 1980’s. That is, until I played South China Sea. All the more interesting because it started out as a ‘professional’ wargame designed for a DoD customer. Not a perfect game, but influential because it shows me it is possible to look at modern warfare at sea by focusing less on the hardware and more on the processes of naval warfare as well as being an example of a professional-gone-commercial wargame.

Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 – Hollandspiele, 2017

slar_wb_largeAt CONNECTIONS 2017, Uwe Eickert sat on a panel and recommended to all the DoD persons in the room that if they want logistics in a wargame they need to look at Hollandspiele’s Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 game. I found the game online and ordered it (from a very strange little company using a Print-on-Demand publishing model..WTF?). When it arrived and I put it on the table and played I was blown away. First, it has ‘cubes,’ not armies or dudes. Second, it really teaches why certain locations were crucial for the American Revolution. Third, it’s challenging and just darn fun to play. Influential because this was the first game I recognized as a ‘waro’, and the first of many quirky Hollandspiele titles that I enjoy.

Pavlov’s House – DVG, 2018

pic5126590Solo wargames are very procedural, right? So procedural they are nothing more than a puzzle to be solved, right. Not Pavlov’s House. I was blown away by the strategy and story that comes thru every play of this game. This is a solo game that makes you want to play because it’s the strategy that counts, not the procedure. Influential because I showed me what a solo game can be as well as how a game that screams ‘Euro’ is actually a wargame.

Blue Water Navy – Compass Games, 2019

TYt4vmWiRnWl0MUjqKCZUwAs the decade came to a close, I had all-but-given up on naval wargaming. When I first saw Blue Water Navy I had thoughts of one of my favorite strategic WW3 at Sea games, Seapower & the State (Simulations Canada, 1982). The play length of BWN, 1-16 hours, kinda put me off at first as I prefer shorter games. As I read more I became more intrigued so I finally purchased it. Now it sits on this list as an influential game because it shows me how abstraction and non-traditional wargame mechanics (cards?) can be used to craft a game that literally plays out like a Tom Clancy or Larry Bond novel. 

Brave Little Belgium – Hollandspiele, 2019

5SEI37l%T5yLJJc7vRLX2wI have been a grognard since 1979. Why do I need a simple wargame that doesn’t even use hexes? I mean, this game uses a chit-pull mechanic (good for solo play) and point-to-point movement. In a game this simple there can’t be much depth, right? Hey, where is the CRT? Speak about a small war…. Influential because this game shows that simplicity can be a very high art. Brave Little Belgium is my go-to quick intro wargame for hobby boardgamers. 

Hold the Line: The American Civil War – Worthington Publishing, 2019

6HSa418vRrKP6Dyy%qokEgThis one is very personal. My Middle Boy is on the autism spectrum and when his younger brother started an evening program once a week the Middle one was a bit lost without his companion. So I looked around for a wargame we could play in a sort of ‘filler-wargame’ mode – short and simple on a weeknight. And play we did; ten times in 2019. He beat me seven times. Influential because this game – sometimes derided as a simplified ‘Command & Colors wannabe’ – connected me closer to my Middle Boy than any game before.

Less Than 60 Miles – Thin Red Line Games, 2019

Gi47YGXvSuiIL8pOfxkb3gThe folks from the US Army Command & General Staff College at CONNECTIONS 2019 had a copy of Less Than 60 Miles on their table and were singing praises of the game. I was fortunate enough to be able to trade for the game later on BGG. What I discovered was a wargame built around John Boyd’s OODA Loop. At the same time I was reading A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare. Putting the two of them together was like lightening in a bottle. This is a heavy, serious game that is also playable and enjoyable. Influential for no other reason than it shows me that OODA applies far beyond the cockpit; indeed, I need to look at OODA for many more games.

Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest – Might Boards Games, 2019Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest – Might Boards Games, 2019

nof_packshotBrian Train is a designer that often looks at lesser or different wars and always brings forth an interesting perspective in his games. He calls this game, ‘a militarized Eurogame.’ He’s right; this title is the full embodiment of a waro game. I often argue with myself if this is even a wargame; after all, you can play solo, head-to-head, teams, or cooperative. Hobby boardgame or wargame? Influential for that very reason as it represents to me the full arrival of the ‘waro’ to the hobby gaming market.

Tank Duel – GMT Games, 2019

zGtfgQKQQ+SJpwWwL2RlAwLike Nights of Fire, this can’t really be a wargame. It has no board, no dice, and no CRT. Instead it has ‘tableaus’ for tanks and (lots of) cards! You can also play up to eight players. There is no player elimination – tanks respawn! What on earth is this? Influential because it challenges all my traditional views of a wargame only to deliver some of the best wargaming experiences I have ever had at the gaming table.

There are many more games from 2010-2019 that influenced me. Games with the chit-pull mechanic are now my favorite to solo with, but I didn’t put one on the list. Maybe I should of….

Hmm…I see it’s also hard to pin down one particular publisher that particularly influences me. In this list of 15 games we have:

  • 4x GMT Games
  • 3x Compass Games
  • 2x Academy Games
  • 2x Hollandspiele
  • 1x DVG
  • 1x Mighty Boards Games
  • 1x Thin Red Line Games
  • 1x Worthington Publishing

Not a bad spread!


*’Waro’ – A combination of ‘wargame’ and ‘Eurogame. To me it is a wargame that incorporates Eurogame like look/components or mechanics vice a traditional hex & counter wargame.

Entering the matrix doesn’t mean exiting from #wargames

Over on Rex Brynen’s excellent PAXSIMS website, he posted a link to BEAR RISING, a Matrix game looking at the Baltic in the post-INF Treaty era. As a wargaming professional, I appreciate that Matrix games can be used to explore policy issues and generate greater insight into the issue. Matrix games are a part of wargaming, but apparently some out there want to distance themselves from that connection. Taking a look at BEAR RISING you find this:

What are matrix games? Matrix games are different to normal Wargames. In most of those games you will probably compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else’s idea about what things are important, before making a decision, checking that it is covered by the rules and rolling dice to see if you succeed. It can take a long time, look really complicated and can be very difficult to explain to a newcomer. Instead, in a matrix game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Facilitator or the players (or both) decide how likely it is, and you might roll a dice to see if it happens (but equally, in the face of a compelling argument, you might not need to). If you can say “This happens, for the following reasons…” you can play a Matrix Game. The games themselves are not intended to be fiercely competitive, with obvious winner and losers. Instead they operate with the players working to generate a credible narrative. It is from examination of this narrative after the game that the player gain insights to the situation being portrayed. The player roles have objectives that will place them in conflict with other players, but it is perfectly possible for all of the players to achieve at last some of their objectives by the end of the game.

Let’s take a few of these sentences apart:

  • “In most of those games you will probably compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else’s ideas about what things are important before making a decision, checking that it is covered by the rules and rolling dice to see if you succeed.” I guess you have only played wargames like Advanced Squad Leader, right? You totally have missed out on many “light” wargames like Brave Little Belgium or uncountable others? I hope you are consistent in your views and have the same disdain for heavy Eurogames out there and especially for anything designed by Phil Eklund, right?
  • “It can take a really long time, be really complicated and can be very difficult to explain to a newcomer.” I challenge you to try any of the Academy Games Birth of America-series or Commands & Colors (Compass Games or GMT Games) or a Hold the Line game (Worthington Publishing). If those games are too complicated for you and difficult to teach a newcomer then you have no place talking to anybody about a Matrix game.
  • “Instead, in a matrix game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Facilitator or the players (or both) decide how likely it is, and you might roll a dice to see if it happens (but equally, in the face of a compelling argument, you might not need to).” But you just disparaged rolling dice above….
  • “The games themselves are not intended to be fiercely competitive, with obvious winner and losers.” Ah…another bias. Wargames “must” be “fiercely competitive.” Let’s not talk anything about the learning that can come from exploring the situation; it’s war and war is automatically evil! To that I say si vis pacem, para bellum.*
  • “Instead they operate with the players working to generate a credible narrative. It is from examination of this narrative after the game that the player gain insights to the situation being portrayed.” I would argue that some of the best wargames, like the new Tank Duel (GMT Games, 2019) or Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid (GMT Games, 2018) generate a “credible” narrative during the game and don’t need a scribe to explain it to the players afterwards.
  • “The player roles have objectives that will place them in conflict with other players, but it is perfectly possible for all of the players to achieve at last some of their objectives by the end of the game.” Is this not the hallmark of a good game design? A good design will see all players work towards their objective, with the end result being a measure of how well they achieved those objectives. The objectives themselves do not have to the same (for example, who controls the most territory) but can be different like in Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest (Mighty Boards, 2019) where the Revolutionaries try to save civilians while the Soviets try to control the city. Or maybe the designers of BEAR RISING are not familiar with a GMT Games COIN game like Colonial Twilight (see Grant from The Players Aid comments about terror) or the asymmetric Root from Leder Games?

I will repeat what I said before; Matrix games are useful to explore policy issues and generate insight. But they are one tool in the vast kit available to designers. To maximize that insight, I prefer designers and players to have open minds and to avoid/remove as much bias as possible. In the case of the BEAR RISING designers, they show me that they have deep biases that make me doubt the assumptions their game is built on.


* “If you want peace, prepare for war.” In my case I strongly advocate studying warfare to understand – and avoid – military disasters of the past.

Feature image courtesy BEAR RISING.

@Mountain_Navy 2019 half-year #wargame #boardgame stats check-in

Almost a month late, but here are my wargame/boardgame stats for Jan 01 thru June 30, 2019. Compiled thanks to BoardGameGeek and BGGStats.

So, does this make me a better gamer than you? NO! I am just gaming in my own way and enjoying it. I’m not looking to compare myself to others but rather share with all of you the joy gaming has brought to myself and my family. It’s not important if you play one game a month or 100; the important part is to enjoy the hobby!

The costs of the #wargame #boardgame hobby

Looks like the hobby boardgame and wargame industry could be hit by tariffs on games and parts made in China. Dependably, hobby gamers on BoardGameGeek and Twitter are all abuzz.

“A 25% tariff is going to make games unaffordable!” Maybe. Roger Miller, President of Revolution Games points out:

Its a tariff on the production cost of games, not the list price. Production as a percentage of list price is usually between 12%-20%. So an increase in total price of 5% would cover the entire tariff.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2204314/lot-games-are-going-get-more-expensive

A 5% increase in game prices is not great, but it’s not the end of the world either.

Other BGG users are lamenting the “inevitable” decrease in quality by not printing in China:

I have had several publishers tell me that they can’t get the quality as good printing in the US as they get printing in China. I don’t know whether that’s true of all types of games or just the games those designers publish. But it’s a mistake to assume the only reason to print in China is price. It’s possible that tariffs could lead to quality dropping as more games are printed in the US.

BGG User Eric Brocius

I think Uwe Eickert of @AcademyGames might have a different opinion:

“…and today we are going to talk about quality issues we are seeing from China.”

Fortunately, I have options. The US-based print-on-demand publishing model of Hollandspiele (@Hollandspiele) is looking mighty appealing right now. Games like Brave Little Belgium (in the header image) are quite likely going to bubble to the top of the purchase queue….

All this drama is going to have to play out. To me, the bottom line is that I will likely have to pay more for games. The question is, “how much?” I believe the increase “should” be less than 25% but I am not sure many companies in the very cottage-like boardgame industry are prepared. So I expect prices to go up by at least 25% and maybe more.

Yes, this means I will have to get pickier on what I buy. But…if companies want to keep chasing my wallet they need to be diligent about controlling their costs and only passing on to me what is fair and proper. To be clear – I am perfectly willing to pay a premium price for a good game; I am not willing to pay premium dollars to a company unable to control their cost AND quality. Just because you can’t control YOUR costs doesn’t mean I automatically accept you passing that problem to ME (close to what I used to hear in the military, “Your stupidity is NOT my emergency!”).

Hey, here’s and idea! Let’s play the games we already got! Maybe tariffs will slow down the spread of the Cult of the New or be the antidote to the viral Fear of Missing Out. For myself I am behind on my 2019 challenges to play all the Charles S. Roberts and Golden Geek and Origins Award winners I have in my collection. That’s over 50 games to play this year! Or maybe I go ahead and pull the trigger on Scythe: The Rise of Fenris and start a campaign. Or I get the latest FREE Cepheus Engine: Faster than Light rules and start that RPG campaign the RockyMountainNavy Boys have been hounding me about.

If anything, I probably need to invest in those expansions or published-but-unpurchased games NOW before people slow down buying “new” games and turn their dollars towards that segment of the market and drive prices up. That’s what I’m going to tell Mrs. RockyMountainNavy to explain the bills. It’s sure to work….


Feature image Brave Little Belgium from Hollandspiele. A “towering” figure in the hobby boardgame industry tried to besmirch this game; don’t “vasel-ate”, just buy it and enjoy a great game!

#FirstImpressions – #BraveLittleBelgium (@Hollandspiele, 2019)

Brave Little Belgium (Hollandspiele, 2019) is the newest wargame to land on the RockyMountainNavy gaming table. Here is the publisher’s blurb:

In the wake of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a complex web of interlocking treaties led to powers both great and small taking sides in the Great War. Belgium, however, declared its neutrality. German war plans against France called for an invasion through Belgium, and they demanded free passage. When the Belgians refused, the Germans invaded…

Brave Little Belgium recreates this dramatic early campaign of the First World War in a lightning-quick introductory wargame with plenty of challenges for both sides. As the German Player, you must smash through the enemy’s defenses as quickly as possible, relentlessly advancing. But push your men too hard, and they might commit atrocities that will rally world opinion against you. As the Entente Player, you must stage a desperate defense against overwhelming odds. When and where to fall back, and where to take a stand, are decisions of vital importance.

Combat is fast and streamlined, while a clever take on chit-pull activations creates moments of tension and uncertainty. The result is an engaging wargame for new recruits and grognards alike from first-time designers and longtime friends Ryan Heilman and Dave Shaw.

I recently have been very taken with chit-activation wargames which was part of the reason I picked up this game. In my first solo play the chit-pull mechanic certainly made it solo friendly, but that same mechanic also introduced a classic friction and fog-of-war into the campaign. A little bit of a push-your-luck mechanism also fit the theme to a tee.

Let me be clear from the beginning; Brave Little Belgium is an excellent game. I tip my hat to designers Ryan Heilman (@ryanheilman) and Dave Shaw for taking a single 22″x17″ map, 88 counters, and an eight-page (actually just over six) rule book and making a very tense and exciting game.

Knowing the history and looking at the set up, this looks like it will be a cake-walk for the Germans.

rVPALjKUQ12wTsRP9AguWA
Set Up

However, once the first movement comes those little lines between boxes suddenly become so restrictive. The straight lines cost 1 MP, the squiggly (“difficult”) cost 2 MP. Infantry can only move two and cavalry four. But it should be alright because the Germans are simply going to sweep across the board, just like the staff planning maps say, right?

IX0AUm7hR5yjkYIOqPhg4w
End Turn 1 – Liege under siege

This is where the chit-draw mechanic comes in. German armies can move when their chit is drawn. If the three Turn End chits are drawn before all the armies move there is an opportunity for each army to move, but at the risk of an Atrocity – too many atrocities and world opinion hardens against the Kaiser.

seQGmscERmysB1uqagIJnA
German offensive slows

In my game, in the early turns the Turn End chits came out early. In order to keep the offensive going, the Germans had to risk Atrocities.

8IdELoeqTtCjIWAqZ5NE%w
Liege almost reduced but other German armies fail to advance

In order to win, the Germans must reduce the forts of Liege and Namur and get an infantry unit across the victory line to the west.

GjbDnqeOSCag3TVHuKt3GQ
Germans still stuck at Liege and Namur

In the mid-game the chit-draws started favoring the Germans. Liege was being ground down while Namur was invested. The German First Army made a dash for Ghent.

5alHMQmOQMuITsANplESpg
German threaten Ghent but the British move to defend

The fortresses of Liege and Namur proved very formidable and the Germans threw themselves against the forts with little success. One of the German chits is Big Bertha that deals an automatic hit to a fort. It can be used by an army if it has already been pulled. In a fine example of timing not working right, many times the Big Bertha event was drawn after a sieging army was activated, thus rendering the event near-worthless.

ZWQRCtMISQybLQYWpypuUQ
Liege falls, but is it too late for the Germans?

Eventually, Liege fell but at the cost of effectively destroying the German 2nd Army. Namur held stubbornly. In the north, the German 1st Army attacked the British in Ghent but were repulsed although most of the British Army was destroyed.

k7nf9+gyR8a2FTvxrDUJBA
Germans race against time to reach Ghent and reduce Namur

The chit pulls again created an interesting flow of events. Before the German 1st Army could attack out of Brussels the British and Belgium armies moved with the Belgiums assuming the defense of Ghent.

ZB634K8tQriUF2c7ReDGiw
The war will be long but at least the Entente started off strong

In the end, the Germans simply ran out of chits and time. Namur held and the German First Army was unable to break the defenses at Ghent. Brave Little Belgium held!

Gameplay

The rules for Brave Little Belgium are super-easy to digest. This is a game that can be learned, or taught, very quickly. In my first game, I needed to reread the siege rules the first time through to capture a few nuances but it didn’t derail the game or cause a reset. My playthrough above certainly was not anything close to an “optimal” play but it was a wonderful exploration of the core gameplay elements.

The chit-pull mechanic really shines in this game. It creates tension every turn and moments of elation when the right chit comes out, as well as dejection when the chits aren’t pulled in the preferred order (I can’t count how many times Big Bertha came available after the siege combat has occurred).

Combat? Well, if you don’t like dice-chuckers then Brave Little Belgium is not your game. But the simple combat keeps the game moving without distraction from the tension of the chit-pulls.

Components

Look at that map! It looks like a canvas map that a field commander would be using. Really helps with the immersive experience. Maybe next Christmas Hollandspiele will offer this one in a canvas map – AUTO BUY!

I have to admit it was a bit disconcerting at first to see dice faces printed on combat counters. What is this, a game? Luckily, any feelings of thematic disorientation quickly fade away as the dice on counters feeds the quick combat resolution system. Sure, putting a number would have worked too but the dice face makes sorting for combat go quicker. In Brave Little Belgium the design choice fits the ease-of-play approach well.

Verdict

Some historical purist may accuse Brave Little Belgium of being “ahistorical” because, we all just know the Belgiums never stood a chance. Or did they? In Brave Little Belgium the Entente play wins if they delay the Germans, not defeat them. This is a great theme for a wargame to explore – victory is doing better than history, not necessarily changing it.

The hype is right; Brave Little Belgium is a great game for wargame newcomers or grognards alike. I wouldn’t call it a filler game but it plays really quickly and each turn and decision is engaging for both sides.


All images by self