Back in June I acquired an intriguing wargame designed by Volko Ruhnke which simulates, at a grand operational level, what should have been the major challenges during the Middle Ages when planning military campaigns.
I wrote a Coffee Break entry about it ( read it here before continuing reading ) and how it entered my interest and how much intrigued I became about how it would make me face the dilemmas of having to orchestrate a campaign, aimed for success, while balancing the different aspects of a non standing army, reliant on vassalage as per feudal system.
This simply means the Lords can assemble their forces as requested and also request their sworn Vassals to assemble their retinues.
Opposed to the “omniscient, omnipotent” type of wargames, this game does not allow for troops to be continually in the field nor for the armies to be continually summoned as needed. Lords are not the “king” puppets, and it also means the Vassals of those Lords are not their puppets ( an advanced game rule ).
Obviously the game objectives are contained within a certain period of time and simulates a precise amount of conflicts which saw the Teutonic orders and allies face the Novgorod princes and allies. In that aspect it might seem limited to the more liberal 4x wargamers that rely on a starting point and then provide themselves their own objectives aiming for score.
In Nevsky there’s a fantastic cake that is served in healthy slices instead of the gluttony of the entire cake at once.
Having tucked away the box for a few months I was afraid I would face the same barriers of the last time so I did exactly the same method I’ve been doing of late – setup, look, read, clear, setup again, move pieces, look, read, clear, … and with every clear and setup add more steps.
Note: I’ve come to the conclusion that I rather have an excellent rule book than a superb hand holding playbook.
That meant this time I did not touch the source book as a guide but read it (again!) for the history behind the events and personalities and relied entirely on the rules with some help from social media interactions with some rules interpretations ( I blame my English rather than the rule book ).
An entire weekend timeshare for games was dedicated to Nevsky and I only played the Pleskau 1240 scenario. Played twice fully, once did fumble a couple rules, the other I played perfectly. A third time I kept playing it through the Winter just because it was being so much fun. Add a few setup and clear type plays, to understand the synergy of elements as the sequence develops, and it completes the entire weekend.
The scenario Victory conditions revolve around the core of medieval feudal system of terms of service in the field and Points are awarded for Lords that Disband, which is easier said than done, in addition to the normal Points awarded for Conquests and Ravaged enemy locations.
One of the beauties of the game is that both Teutons and Rus will not be the same, both in tactical capabilities and in what strategy to pursue. The Rus start with 1 Victory Point in the Veche, which can be held for claiming Victory in the end of the scenario ( ends by Summer end, lasts for 2 terms of 40 days each ) or to invest into a Lord service. It is a measure of Rus defending their homeland against the invaders, so the 1VP can be either a “rousing speech” and extend the time of service of a Lord or simple a final declaration of “we defended our land!”.
The Rus have tremendously less staying power and somewhat weaker punch overall with their forces. The majority will be Militias and Light Horse while the Teutons will count on a steamrolling array of armoured troop types, mainly Knights. Just for this description and even if you know nothing of the game but can relate troop type naming you can guess it – open Battle is a sure way to get steamrolled.
But there are ways to offset the opponent advantages such as Capabilities and Events, such as the one shown in the picture that was chosen with the second option – to block a Lord positioned in a Flank during Turn 1 of the Battle.
Combat is a simple “armour save” method, with some add on’s on occasion. Quick and very dirty and truly bloody decisive.
A game turn, a 40 days period in the timeline, is divided in two – a Levy sequence and a Campaign sequence, but my advice is to read your operational decisions the other way around. Set in your mind what objectives you want to achieve in the Campaign sequence and then make decisions during Levy to provide enough support for the Campaign. Troops, Transport and making sure there’s enough time of Service left for all the Lords and Vassals that will be involved.
Player will not only be subject to its own decisions but also to what the opponent will do and not being able to provide for own Lords and their Vassals, because of “piss poor planning” during Levy, surely will make them Disband to go tend to their own affairs and estates.
Asymmetry plays a big role. If Teutons face a supply issue, by being inside enemy territory, then the Rus face losing the campaign due to their lands being Ravaged. This presents the Rus player with an opportunity to exact a supply issue for the Teuton player while having to expose inferior quality armies in Battle.
Which brings me to one oddly interesting aspect of the game that can only be appreciated when considering all the decisions and results after a couple or more 40 days Turns ( reason why I did play one of the games through 4 Turns into the end of Winter ).
The planning of the Campaign phase is based on a sequence of cards. Not all cards. Each Season defines the amount of cards. Summer is 6, Winter is 4, while Spring is 5. Each summoned Lord has 3 cards and the Campaign deck can be composed of any number of cards from any Lord in the map as long as the total does not go over the allowed for the Season. This is truly a brutal mechanism as all the plans and preparation done in Levy can go awry by a badly planned sequence of operations and the sinking feeling when a Lord acts too late or doesn’t have any more opportunities is very real – the enemy has stolen a march on us !!!
I only managed to grasp how magnificent this simple Command sequence is after a few plays and then only by provoking a review of all the preparation done, the campaign decisions and how it resulted and how the sequence could’ve been different. All the phases are subject to each other and the following 40 days Levy is also subject to what happened during the previous Campaign.
After a few attempts the entire system became very organic and the mindset turned less to the rules and more to operational decisions.
On the final game, Pleskov 1240, played as intended only during the Summer, and ended with 2 Victory Points each as both forced an enemy Lord to disband, Rus did not use the 1VP in Veche, and the Teutons Ravaged 2 locations ( half point each ).
I wrote that providing for the Lords and Vassals is important and that Service can be bought with Coin and Loot but troops do not eat coin, so Provisions ( Provender ) are essential as all the occasions that Lord Moves or Fights the army must be provisioned. Failing to provide needed provisions will lower the Service time for that Lord, so it is possible for an enemy to keep harassing and forcing battle after battle in order to exhaust the army and force it to Disband.
All is valid in war and the history line behind Volko choice of the Teuton crusades against the Rus pagans is an interesting one. For one it presents us with very different factions with unique options and capabilities, and lastly does it with game mechanisms that ensure equal opportunity for both players to conduct the wars in their own styles. While the Rus natural reaction, for the scenario I played most, is to hold until Winter comes, there’s nothing that denies the possibility to enter Livonia and Ravage their holdings.
Truly the game does justice to feudal system of privilege in return for service for the duration of a campaign and while there’s substantial differences in the same name system from “kingdom” to “kingdom”, especially considering Western, Eastern and Southern, Europeans kingdoms during the era, the core mechanisms are so rock solid as to be malleable enough to build upon. That is why more volumes of the series are already being planned and focusing on many different periods and historical conflicts during the feudal ages.
The last aspect of the game I’m missing writing about is the Events. These offer a unique thematic feel of the location and conflict and are explained in the source book. Two event cards are drawn each Levy and do represent real aspects of warfare and related that the leaders had to deal with or take advantage of.
So the question is – do I recommend it ?
I do under one of two conditions. First being you like the feudal medieval period at the grand operational level. Second being if you like highly dynamic game system with disregard of the theme.
I could do away with the “wood” pieces, as i remarked before, but seems most people like them.
I would definitely make the battle mat one and half the size, if not double, to be comfortable using all the pieces or counters – but then it is not really necessary, so it would be a quality of life only for those that use it, same as having the “wood” pieces.
The artwork is very competent and the box art is truly reminiscent of Alexander Nevsky film posters all mixed up, at least in my mind.
Rule book is extremely well put together with only a few flip back and forth. Player aids and charts are the example of clarity and more games should look to what has been done and take inspiration.
Play book is exactly in the perfect measure. Gives substantial background to the interested and provides the research bibliography. The half explaining all the cards Events and Capabilities is also something that should be taken as a standard in the industry.
Overall it is a very good game, something I wouldn’t normally consider but having waited to purchase it after the fervour of pre-orders and release buy rushes did pay off. Very pleased with playing it and will see the table regularly.
Thank you for reading.
Nevsky, Teutons and Rus in Collision, 1240-1242 is a game designed by Volko Ruhnke and published by GMT Games