Pax Baltica; Kanebullar or Filmjölk?

A stark choice presents itself for those that know Swedish cuisine when you visit: sweet and sticky cinnamon rolls or soured milk somewhat like a yogurt.

So as I write this quick note I fear that I am being hasty to judge and damning with faint praise.

Pax Baltica (PB) is likely a good block game that is well presented, on a topic that is not much covered by current titles available other than at the tactical level.

That said it feels very much to me more of the same. I just do not want to “try” and like it  more. I cannot see myself playing the 80+ turn campaign,  the 15 turn shorter scenario was enough. The next shortest is 48 turns!

For a block game to shine above the pack what must it have?

For me one thing stands above all theme. The era portrayed must fairly ooze from the game. What do I mean by theme?

Well for me it is more than blocks color coded to country, more than the use of historical region names and more than a few Regimental colors on stickers. Theme should evoke the era’s politics at the level needed, the military style of combat (assuming there is any), the technology of the times and the imperatives of the protagonists.

Where does PB sit in that mix? Well let’s take a look. Pax Baltica does a nice job of representing the armies of the day with color and pageantry. It shows some uniqueness in its concept of garrisons as the controlling factor for a territory, which has implications to another aspect of the era, supplies and Lines of Communication.

In the 1700’s the concepts of Forage (Supply) and ability to Communicate and therefore receive replacements were of importance and so should be represented in the game. PB finds some simple means to do that, which work well, and provide a minimum of theme, I can’t just dash off like Caesar and stomp all over the board without a means to communicate back to the motherland in this game nor should you.

The Politics of the time were complicated and therefore hard to model. PB finds a way to allow you capture some of that via a roll for activation, Truces and reactivation of allies, such as Saxony, Ukraine, Hannover, Denmark and Prussia. PB even goes so far as to model the military reformation that Peter the Great went thru. Nice. Not awesome but a nice touch, that distinguishes it from other block games.

The problem lies not in these elements they are fine and provide a subtle flavor and theme. Nor is the Replacement Track; the means with which you track the loss of Replacement Points and ultimately measure victory with, a problem.

Part of the problem lies in the sameness of the combat system, like so many other block games. A.B.C.D blocks with a to hit #. I got some reserves, you got some reserves. My guys go, your guys go, retreat, advance,.blah blah.

So in the end we spend some time looking for cute ways to get supporting units into play, we use screening or blocking tactics, we rebuild and come back for more. Am I throwing spears, shooting muskets or wielding swords? It does not rally matter here….Its all the same, most quality pips wins on a lucky die roll.

Compared to say Sekigahara where combat units have different worth and value depending upon type and are played via cards of the same house (not all card driven games are bad), that system felt innovative and fresh, and thoughtfully linked to the era.

Play in Pax Baltica  is driven by actions rather than bidding with cards. For actions you simply roll a die. This determines the # of actions and initiative and if there is a special event or not. This special event then requires a roll on the particular countries table. Here is where the most elements of theme comes out. We have the odd Epidemic, troops go on loan, Cossacks go home, Economic actions occur that influence RPs, you get the idea.

You know it could be the weather. It could be the huge pile of other games waiting to be played. But this does not grab me as I was so hoping it would. I was hoping and expecting it to be..well more sweet, more sticky in its ability to grab my attention.

If you like block games, and mechanics similar to the Columbia Games style of Hammer of the Scots and Julius Caesar then you will like this more than not. If you were craving something different in the vein of Sekigahara or Blocks in the East then this might not fit the bill.

From the box art, easy to apply stickers, the comprehensive background history and clean rules the game adheres to the GMT formula. That I think is my Filmjölk.

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