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Great Northern War by Wargame Design Studio     The Great Northern War went from 1700 until 1721. It was certainly not the first to envelop ...

Great Northern War by Wargame Design Studio Great Northern War by Wargame Design Studio

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Great Northern War


Wargame Design Studio 

 The Great Northern War went from 1700 until 1721. It was certainly not the first to envelop the Baltic countries nor would it be the last. Peter I (the great) was on the throne of Russia, Augustus II (the strong, and Marshal DeSaxe's father) was king of Poland and Saxony, and Frederick IV of Denmark-Norway decided to get together and conquer and then divide the Swedish possessions around the Baltic. On the throne of Sweden was an eighteen-year-old by the name of Charles XII. He had been a rowdy teenager as king, and one is reminded of Henry V of England before he became king. Charles, just like Harry, seems to have sobered up completely at the announcement of war. What the three foolish kings did not know is that they had unleashed from his bottle a specter that would haunt them for many years. Charles XII was a born military genius. He also slept with Arrian's account of Alexander the Great under his pillow. His feats on and off the battlefield would be sung through the ages just like a skald would sing of his Viking ancestors. I first met up with him as a child in the book Twelve Against the Gods by William Bolitho Ryall. My little eyes glassed over when constantly reading the part of about him over and over. I still only wear boots that resemble the ones he had on in the picture. Charles XII was a total anachronism for his years on earth. Cervantes should have written his biography. Charles probably saw himself as a crusader or as a knight errant.

 War game Design Studio has not released a game like this in a while. Most of their games are of huge swaths of territory with 1000 or more scenarios included with it, let alone the campaign games. This game comes with a mere sixty-eight scenarios, not counting the ones in the campaigns. You also get a Getting Started Scenario that also comes with a Getting Started PDF. This walks you through a good number of the different commands and settings you can use in the game. The Great Northern War is part of WDS's line of games called Musket & Pike. As of now, there are only three games in the Musket & Pike series The Great Northern War, Renaissance, and The Seven Years War. Both Renaissance and The Seven Years War are excellent games in their own right. However, I hope that the Musket & Pike Series is soon awash with other titles (hint, hint, nudge, nudge). This is what WDS has to say about the Musket & Pike Series:

 "The games in the Musket and Pike series cover many different campaigns during the new age of muskets up to the Seven Years War. The game scale is 100 meter hexes and 15 minute turns. Units are normally at the company/battery/squadron and battalion level.

All the titles in the series include both stand-alone battles as well as linked campaign games. Editors for both scenarios and campaigns are also included with all titles."

close-up battle screenshot

 This is what WDS has to say about GNW:

"All the titles in the series include both stand-alone battles as well as linked campaign games. Editors for both scenarios and campaigns are also included with all titles.

The Great Northern War includes 69 Scenarios – covering all sizes and situations, including a solo tutorial scenario plus specialized versions for both head to head play and vs. the computer AI.

A range of maps are included covering all the significant locations fought over during the Great Northern War and some of lesser known locations.

The order of battle files cover the various forces that participated in the campaign with other formations added in for hypothetical situations.

There are extensive 3d unit graphics covering all of the major armies involved.

Campaign and Scenario Editors which allow players to customize the game.

Sub-map feature allows the main map to be subdivided into smaller segments for custom scenario creation.

Design notes which cover or include the production of the game, campaign notes and a bibliography that includes the sources used by the designer team to produce this simulation game.

The Great Northern War provides multiple play options including play against the computer AI, Play by E-mail (PBEM), LAN & Internet "live" play as well as two player hot seat.

Includes battles from all aspects of the war - major encounters to small skirmishes. 69 stand-alone scenarios and 5 campaigns. A sampling would be:


 Just like all of their titles, the bare bones of the games come from a series of John Tiller games that were released a while ago. However, WDS has worked their combined fingers to the bone in updating and testing all of the different series of games that they now produce. All of the games have come a long way from what they were when first released. 

 One of the biggest gripes from players of the original versions was the AI was not being up to snuff. A lot of the titles now have actual scenarios designed from the ground up to be played against the AI. There are sometimes multiple scenarios of the same battle complete with what ifs. The actual number of scenarios if you include the ones from the five campaigns is around 200! (and this is a smaller WDS game). This title is a bit different because the number of units on the game maps are very small compared to most of their titles. 

one of zoomed out levels view

 I should just post some pictures and say that you get to replay Narva and Poltava and call it a day. Anyone who has any interest in the GNW will be drooling over the prospect of replaying those battles. However, your choice is just like one offered by Monty Hall: there are always more doors to open. The amazing thing about these games is that you get a complete scenario and campaign editor. Effectively WDS has given you one game that you can tweak to your hearts content down through the years. 

This is the highest zoom out level.

 The battles in the game go from small engagements to large battles like Poltava. The addition of the Getting Started Scenario and PDF does a lot for newcomers to the games. It will also help grognards who, for whatever reason, have not played a WDS title in many a year. 

 Another thing that I love about WDS is that they have released a total of nine! smaller demo games covering almost all of their game series. These range from a piece of Waterloo to some Modern Air War and then topped off with a Spanish-American War Naval Campaign demo release.

Poltava from one of the zoom out levels, it also shows the inset map.

 Enough about WDS and all of their hard work and range of games. What about The Great Northern War? It is very hard as a reviewer to review a game that is about one of your favorite eras of wargaming. On the one hand, Poltava and Narva have had a good number of board wargames done about them. The other battles have never seen the light in a grognards eye. I also have really liked the system that the game uses, even more so now that WDS has updated almost all of the parts of the games. The only thing about the game that gives me any pause at all is their treatment of Poltava. While you could use the editor to change certain aspects to your liking, I am kind of stymied by their being only one version of the scenario included, outside of the Russian Campaign 1708-1709. This campaign has two different battles of Poltava in it. Historians are torn between it being a forlorn Swedish attack or that had Charles XII not been wounded (he was shot in the foot and unable to stand or ride a horse) their plan was feasible. So, it is possible that the designer is firmly in the 'the Swedes had no chance' side of the argument.

Another zoomed in screenshot

 We have not come to the point yet in computers where we can effectively act like commanding generals. No AI program has been written that can make your computer subordinates act like their historical counterparts (unless those counterparts did not deserve to be on the battlefield). Oh, we can tell a group or unit to follow a road or move to a certain area, but once it is there, we keyboard generals have to take over. AIs, especially in defense, have made great strides, but on the attack not so much. The great thing about the WDS AI scenarios is that they were built with this in mind. So, your AI opponent with these games will give you a fight. The other point about WDS is that they are continually working on the games' code. They just released version 4.7 for Waterloo (and soon for all of the Napoleonic games). Even some more work on the AI has been done in that release. The updates come from WDS so fast and furious that it is hard to keep up with them. 

 I do believe that grognards (grumblers) who also play board wargames make up the largest part of computer wargame players. So, in this instance instead of having a map the size of a table laid out for cats and kiddies to ruin we have it here on our screen. For wargamers who had to downsize, these games are also perfect. The map and the units stay right where we saved them. No wife or better half to grumble about taking up the space. All we do is turn the computer on and poof! there it is. 

 What goes for all of WDS games goes for this one. We do have competent AI generals, at least to some degree. So, solo players can have their cake and save it too. If you want to play a wargame against a live opponent, this game can do it no problem. The age where we had to switch seats is long over. You still can if you want to. You can also order your computer units around while sitting comfortably in your pajamas. Great Northern War brings to our computers battles that have never been seen before and campaigns that we have just dreamed about. Can you follow in Charles XII's footsteps and march to glory and final ruin, or will you be able to defeat all of your enemies and make the Baltic a Swedish lake for another hundred years?

close-up of the Battle of Narva at the start

 Thank you, Wargame Design Studio, for allowing me to review another excellent game in your stable. I cannot say enough about this game or the whole gamut of battles and campaigns from so many eras that your company produces. They also have been producing updates at a prodigious rate; this also includes more scenarios. Please take a look at all of the fine games they produce.


This is a link to their nine demos:

Against The Odds magazine #42 With The Game: A Thunder Upon The Land: The Battles of Narva and Poltava   This will be a...

Against The Odds Magazine Issue #42 With The Game: A Thunder Upon The Land: The Battles of Narva and poltava Against The Odds Magazine Issue #42 With The Game: A Thunder Upon The Land: The Battles of Narva and poltava

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


The Battles of Narva and Poltava

 This will be a two part review. the first part will be about the magazine itself, and the second part will be about the game 'A Thunder Upon The Land'. 

 I love food, a picture would prove it. However, if given a choice between reading and eating, food for the mind or soul wins every time. Wargaming magazines have been around for about fifty years or so. They have usually been filled with pretty pictures, but we really do read them for the articles. To think of Jim Dunnigan wandering about in his pajamas and a pipe in his mouth is a bit disconcerting. He is, however, our Hefner (I know S&T started earlier, but it really took off under him). 

 This is my first Against The Odds magazine. I have to save I am mightily impressed. Physically, the magazine is impressive. The maps are especially well done and extremely informative. I have been reading about Charles XII of Sweden for fifty years, so I was very surprised to find new information about him in the background article. I learned that unfortunately Charles XII was an object of hero worship by the Third Reich. The other articles are just as well done as the article about the game history. This will not be my last copy of ATO by a long shot, and I can recommend it to any wargamer.

 Magazine wargames have always gotten a bad rap for some reason. I have never understood why. Some of my favorite games, and gaming moments, have come from them. The rules of this game are sixteen pages long. Physically, they are of the same high quality as the rest of the magazine. One excellent part of the rules is that you can take out the two middle pages of the magazine and have a players aid sheet for both players. There are actually two separate tactical games included. One is the Battle of Narva in 1700, and the other is Poltava in 1709. The map is two sided and is large at 22" x 34". I can say it is one of the best magazine maps I have ever seen. The colors and drawings are extremely well done. The counter colors are vibrant, and they are easy to read. The counter attachment to the cardboard sprues and the left over cardboard on the counters is the only thing about the game that is middle of the road.  

 Narva is either looked at as a master stroke, or the luck of a madman. Poltava is described as a bad piece of luck, or the comeuppance that Charles XII deserved. I believe that Poltava could very well have turned out differently had Charles not been wounded before the battle. Charles had the very bad luck not to have been killed by the bullet that shattered his foot. If he had been killed, his unbroken string of victories would be looked at differently, and Poltava would have been blamed on others.

 The Russian Army that you either command or fight with in Narva is nowhere near the Russian Army of Poltava. So the game shows the progress of the Russian military through the years of the Great Northern War.

 Tsar Peter I was very busy in his reign. He almost single handedly pulled Russia from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century. he did this by literally pulling his nobles by their beards as they were kicking and screaming. 

 The game sequence is as follows:

Initiative Determination phase (on turn one of both games, this is by default the Swedish player)

Activation Phase
  Command Activation Segment
  Out-of-Command units Segment

End Phase
 Replacement Segment
 Recovery Segment
 Victory Determination Segment

 The game comes with zone of control, facing, and command rules. Morale and disruption also play a big factor. These are pretty much what you would expect in a tactical wargame of the early eighteenth century. 

Narva Map

 The player with the initiative uses an AM (Activation Marker) to activate units that have a LOC (Line of Command) to its command leader. This LOC has to be four hexes long, counting the units hex, but not the leaders one. The rest of the AMs are put into a container to be pulled randomly. There is also a 'High Command' AM that is available to each side in the Battle of Narva scenario, but only on the Swedish side at Poltava. This will allow certain listed units to activate once more even though they may have done so with their normal activation marker. In the replacement phase, a unit that does not move or take any other action and is within command range of certain command units, allows the unit to be flipped back to its original strength. The recovery segment is where units that are disrupted or routed can attempt by die roll to rally. Victory is determined by capturing certain hexes, or by unit step loss or leader elimination. 

Poltava Map

 The game has rules for cavalry charges and counter charges. Infantry charges, a Swedish favorite, are also represented in the game. One rule that sticks out is that infantry can form square. From my reading, I believe that historians are still arguing about when the infantry square came into being, so I was a bit surprised about the rule. The game also comes with many optional rules. You can add volley fire to the mix and use it to increase your chances on combat results. There is also a 'Swedish Desperation' optional rule. If the Swedish player has the initiative and is losing the game, he can make a die roll on the 'Desperation Attack Table'. This will show you how many desperate attacks the Swedes can make that turn. One unit in an attack has its attack factor doubled for the attack, but suffers disruption immediately after it. One optional rule that is not really represented is having Charles XII not wounded at the time of Poltava. There is an optional rule to have him appear in the Poltava battle but he does not turn up until turn four. Charles was actually dragged around the battle in a litter, but was not really able to influence the outcome at all. The Swedes saw him as a good luck charm. His military skill and Swedish morale could very well have turned the tide at Poltava.

 The rules for the most part are easy to read and understand. The designer Paul Rohrbaugh has been very helpful to people with rule questions on BGG. 

 The games play out much like in history. At Narva the Swedes attacked in a snow storm, and they were not even supposed to be near the Russians. Charles broke most of the rules of warfare at the time, and in doing so won a spectacular victory. On the other hand, the Russian Army at Narva is brittle and the rules for that scenario help to make it a historical battle. Poltava is thought by some to be completely unwinnable by the Swedes according to most historians. As the Swedish commander, you have to fight through a line of redoubts and then actually attack a fortified Russian camp; and did I mention the Russians have plenty of artillery? Even with Charles able to conduct the battle, it is a very hard task. Under the historical conditions with both Swedish commanders hating each other it is almost impossible. I like these two games. One of the big reasons is that the designer did not fiddle with history to make it more 'gamey', and to give each side a level playing field. The optional rules, if you choose to use them, do add a little more historical flair to the games, but also make it a bit easier at times on both sides. 

 Unfortunately, the battles of Charles XII and his generals have not really been made into too many games. The most produced game of this war is usually Poltava. I will admit that being of Swedish descent I have always had a love and hate relationship with the battle. For the longest time it was the only battle that you could game, but the situation is a desperate Swedish attack into Russian field works with really no other option. With the Battle of Narva, the Swedes can decide exactly where and when they will attack. The treatment of both battles in this game are first rate, and anyone who is interested in the time period should check them out.