Sunday, 25 January 2009

Polemos: Great Northern War Review

We played Polemos:GNW for the first time yesterday. I have had the rules for a long time but have never yet managed to play them. One of the things that has put me off is difficulty in reading and understanding the rules. Normally I am very good at learning rules from the rules and do not need someone to demonstrate them first. However, I have really struggled with Polemos:GNW. There seems to be a lot of assumed knowledge on the part of the rules' author, which makes understanding the rules difficult. For this reason I have not previously got around to playing them. So, we steeled ourselves, girded our loins and set to.

The Rules

The rules themselves are fairly standard in many respects, with attack and defence values for each unit and opposed die rolls to see if you succeed. You then consult a table to see what result your attacks have had. The effects of combat see your units gaining levels of "shaken", possibly recoiling back from their enemy, or even being driven back. Casualties per se are not removed. Instead, when a unit reaches three or more levels of "shaken" it will rout. Under some circumstances it can be rallied, but otherwise it is removed from the game. This is how units are destroyed.

The really new idea that they present is in tempo bidding. Tempo is initiative. Each side gets a fixed number of tempo points each turn and add the score of a six-sided die roll to that. Then both players decide how many points they can afford to bid to win the initiative and still do what they need to do in that turn. The bids are compared and the higher bidder wins the initiative. Both players deduct their bids from their total tempo points and that is how many points you have left to do things. These points are used a bit like PIPs in the DBx series of games, but the person that lost the initiative has to spend more points to act with their units, which means that they could wind up unable to do as much as the player with the initiative can. One problem with the tempo bidding was allocating points to commands. This can take a little time as you try to work out what you need to do where.

The Game

So, how did they play? We set up a small battle on a 4'x3' table with two Baccus starter armies. I took the Swedes and Steve took the Saxons. The figures were set up 2' apart for an encounter battle as recommended in the rules.

The first thing we found was that we had plenty of tempo points each as we manoeuvred towards each other. During this phase of the game I made the mistake of positioning my field gun in the wrong place, so I was unable to bombard the Saxons while they bombarded my right wing (to little effect). Once we had closed to contact, however, tempo points and winning the initiative became more critical and we quickly found that we did not have enough points to do everything that we wanted to do. This was especially the case on my left wing, where some squadrons of my cavalry burst through the enemy lines and pursued the routing Saxon cavalry almost to the edge of the board before regaining control and halting. They spent the rest of the game waiting there because they were too far from their commander for me to be able to afford to spend points on them. Elsewhere on the battlefield the infantry had finally closed and were firing at each other, while the cavalry on the right wing were manoeuvring around the wood on the hill, trying to get at each other in an inconclusive cavalry melee that saw both of us with troops routing.

Our game took four hours, before Steve had to leave, and the game had not reached a conclusion, although it seemed to be favouring me, because Steve's right wing had all routed from the table. This left my left wing able to regroup and then they could have fallen on the enemy flank. However, this would have taken time that my centre and right wing might not have had. At this point we decided to call it a draw.


The game was fun to play despite our difficulties with actually reading the rules. More than any other rule set I have played these rules required game play to show how they worked. I would say that they are not for beginners purely because of the way they are written.

The tempo bidding was good fun and a great way of determining who would be able to act first and how much they would be able to do. Both Steve and I like this type of mechanism where you are trying to second-guess your opponent all the time.

Combat was simple enough with the opposed rolls, although the long list of modifiers might put some off. There were a number of situations that cropped up in our game, which did not appear to be covered in the rules but we were able to come up with solutions easily enough and I have now asked about them on the Polemos Yahoo Group, so I hope to have answers soon.

One thing that the rules really need is a coherent quick reference sheet. The QRS that comes with the rules seems to have bits put in wherever they fit rather than putting all the firing tables together, the close combat tables together, etc. This did cause us a few delays in game play as we tried to work out where the relevant tables were.

Overall, we enjoyed the game a lot and will be trying the rules again. We hope to significantly reduce the amount of time that the game took to play as we become more familiar with the game and its mechanisms. Producing a better QRS could help with this. We shall see how it works out.

If you have the time and patience to work through the rules then the game play is ultimately rewarding and I would recommend these rules to you. If you need everything served up in bite-sized chunks then these rules are not for you, unless you can find someone to teach you.


  1. Not interested in Polemos at all (what, a set of rules that I'm not interested in, I must be getting old/frugal/insane! ) but the picture of the table and the hex terrain was all the more interesting. Did you or your friend make this from scratch or did you get the GHX or other hex system?

  2. It is GHQ Terrainmaker terrain that I have had for a long time. I made it all myself when I was young and enthusiastic! I think it needs some work still, because it is another project that was never quite finished. I am also not totally happy with the shade of green I used back then. I may make it one of my monthly projects and discuss my approach. I really like the modularity of the terrain using this system but the GHQ hexes are not always cut exactly hexagonal.

  3. Polemos was enjoyable to play and in some ways better than Koenig Kreig. The main problems, as Ruarigh says, seemed to be clarity in the rules and the quick reference sheet. Combat I thought worked well and once you had found the correct table, the modifiers were easy to remember. Maybe next time we need to set a day aside to play to a finish.