Saturday, 4 February 2023

Battle Of Poltava

Inspired by Norm's post about the game on his blog I recently bought the Battle of Poltava game from Blue Panther Games. I've always wanted to have a go at refighting Poltava, but it's a tricky one, with a massively outnumbered Swedish army very much up against it, and a chain of events that, if left to the wargamer's free will, simply doesn't happen. getting a boardgame would show me how at least one designer approached the issues.

And here's the game. It's very nicely put together - clear chunky counters, a lovely map printed on canvas, two sets of ten cards and surprisingly clear rules given that they run to essentially three sides of A4. Probably the only quibble (aside from a small spelling error on the map) is that the symbols in the setup hexes are possibly a touch faint so you have to look closely when setting up the first time. 

I have played through a couple of games during the week to get a feel for the rules, got some very prompt answers to a couple of rules areas I wasn't quite clear about (the answers were the common-sense ones, so that was good) and today set up a game just so I could write this post. 

Here's the initial setup. The Swedes are to the bottom-left in blue. The Russians are in three groups. Immediately in front of the Swedes are the redoubts, defended by immobile units. Beyond the redoubts are a mass of Russian dragoons. And beyond those is the main Russian army, safely ensconced in its camp. The game is scripted, which causes it to follow the path of the original battle to some degree. The Swedes must break through the redoubts to an assembly area beyond the Russian dragoons. If they can get ten units into the assembly area then they can move freely from then on. The main Russian army must remain in the camp until the Swedes have ten units in the assembly area. So the Swedes are basically required to line up in front of the camp before being allowed to attack it, whilst the Russians can't simply sally forth with their main army from the start.

Turns are driven by cards. each side has a deck of ten, with various events on them. Since the game is 24 turns long, you will see each card at least twice and possibly three times, assuming you go for the whole time. A card tells you how many units you can move (and sometimes which type), how many units can make attacks and then they generally have some restriction or special rule.

The sides alternate their turns, with the attacking Swedes going first. In a turn you draw a card, move units, the other side gets some limited defensive fire, then you resolve your attacks and finally you rally disordered units.

Attacks are simple; a unit has an attack strength and a defence strength. You roll a D6, add you attack strength and are looking to equal or exceed the target's defence. A basic hit will cause the target to become disordered and force it to retreat. Win by enough and you destroy the unit. You can combine attacks to give you a better chance on a single roll. Some units can make ranged attacks.

Here you can see the first Swedish turn, with them attacking a couple of the redoubts. This is another part of the script; until two redoubts are cleared of defenders, the Swedes must, if possible move and attack redoubt defenders with at least three infantry units during their turn. So obviously early on it's about trying to clear a couple so that you get more freedom of movement and attacks.

The end of the first turn. The Swedes have attacked two redoubts, but not had any success. Meanwhile the Russians have pushed their dragoons forward into a close defence of the redoubts.

The game at the end of the third turn. The Swedes were still making heavy weather of the redoubts, but had disordered the defenders of one of them. The Russians were doing a good job of holding back the Swedish advance.

A coordinated attack took the first redoubt!

(And you can see the canvas the map is printed on here)

Five turns in and the Swedes are doing better. They had cleared two redoubts, which freed up their attacks, and had caused the dragoons to fall back. They could now organise themselves to break out of the redoubt line and head for the assembly area.

Here's the power of massing fire though. The Swedish grenadiers in the centre had cleared another redoubt and sensibly occupied it for the bonus to defence it gives. But a solid line of dragoons, supported by artillery blasted them out of it and destroyed them. The Russian dragoons are tricky opponents, since they can generally evade combat if the Swedes attack them (although this causes them to become disrupted). Using the dragoons is a matter of knowing when to run and when to stand and fight.

Eight turns in and things had gone very badly for the Swedes. They got some good cards and broke out of the line of redoubts, but as they did so the Russians drew an excellent card which boosted the attack of their dragoons. The Swedish advance was cut down in an instant, leaving them in a ton of trouble.

In fact they were in a peculiar position where they didn't have ten units left for the assembly area, a condition not covered by the rules and which I forgot to ask a question about. Lose enough units and you lose the game, but there is a small spot between battle-losing losses and having enough units to fulfill the assembly area conditions. I have decided that if the Swedes have fewer than ten units, but have not lost the battle then they fulfill the condition so long as they get all available units into the area.

As it was the Russians kept up a steady fire and eventually destroyed eleven Swedish units to win the battle.

The victory conditions are mostly based on unit losses - the Swedes win if they destroy eighteen Russian units, whilst the Russians win if they destroy eleven Swedes. The Swedes can also win if, at any point, they have three units in the Russian camp.

This was the final position.

This report gives the impression that the Swedes are really up against it and, to some extent, they are. But the cards very much drive the game. early on the Swedes got a couple of cards which slowed their rate of attack, delaying their breakthrough at the redoubts. This gave the Russians time to set up a decent defence. In the mid-game the Swedes got some good cards, and got an excellent attack started, pushing the Russians back, but the Russians got their cavalry counterattack just as the Swedes were reorganising after overextending themselves, and it smashed them. They never got chance to recover.

Overall this game is a lot of fun, and shows how a refight of this interesting battle can be done.

(There are a number of games in this series, all of which seem to involve sieges or attacks on forts. To make the postage worthwhile I also got 'The Siege of Queratero', since it was nice to see a game set during the French intervention in Mexico. I haven't had chance to try that one yet, but the rules are essentially the same, so it should be easy to pick up.


  1. Thanks for the review - it sounds a decent enough game (I’m not sure how “replayable” it will be though). I do like the GNW period, but generally with figures.
    Geoff 😉

    1. I've played it through a few times (with honours about even) and it does give some variation. But any game about a single battle is always going to have a low replay value I suspect.

      Oddly enough the Russian defence strategy can change how it plays each time - do the dragoons go in close to the redoubts like in the game above, or do they stand back and shoot the Swedes as they emerge from the lines? If the main army is activated do you stay close to the camp (or even in it) or come out and fight? (The downside of staying in the camp is that combat results include a retreat and the camp is basically too confined to allow this, thus making it more likely that a beaten Russian unit will be destroyed). I've even looked at sending Russian dragoons into the Swedish rear via the Cloisters.

      One though I have had is to only deal out six of the ten cards to a side at the start. Once you reach the sixth turn you shuffle the ten cards again and deal out another six. That way you can't be sure what cards you have in your hand, nor what the opponent has left. Each card could appear four times in the game (it's 24 turns).

      And, like you, I prefer figures. But the scenario and setup could be translated to a miniatures game, so it's useful in that respect.

  2. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts when you play the Mexican Adventure game.

    1. Here you go - Siege of Queretaro:

  3. Agree that the dragoons are tricky types and give the Russians a very useful counter force to the Swedes. My gaming mate wants next time, as the Russians, to bring the infantry out of the camp to attack! Interesting!


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