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Won by the Sword: 30 Years War Battles  From GMT Games With A Game Designed by Ben Hull


LIVING RULES:  Rules [Final]    Playbook [Final]    ONLINE RESOURCES  Near-Final Map

TIME SCALE 5 to 7 days per Turn 
MAP SCALE Point to Point
UNIT SCALE Infantry Regiments = 800-1000 men
Cavalry Regiments = 400-500 men
Detachments = 200-300 men
Artillery Units = 8-10 guns

PUBLISHED: 2014     DESIGNER: Ben Hull      DEVELOPER: Stephen Brasseur    MAP ART: Knut Grünitz
COUNTER & CARD ART: Mark Simonitch, Charlie Kibler, and Rodger B. MacGowan
PRODUCTION COORDINATOR: Tony Curtis          PRODUCERS: Tony Curtis, Rodger MacGowan, Andy Lewis, Gene Billingsley & Mark Simonitch

GMT Notes:

Won by the Sword is the first game in Ben Hull's Great Campaigns of the Thirty Years War series. It is a two-player game of operational warfare in the 17th Century. Armies maneuver on a point to point map of Southern Germany based on the road network available at the time. Each game is centered around a major battle or full Campaign season. A Turn is a month divided into a variable number of impulses. Each army has a hand of Campaign Cards that control the amount of activity it may perform, the supplies it must expend, and a special action. Each impulse features one card play per army. Forces are concealed off map so players are faced with limited knowledge of the enemy. The major activities are maneuver, foraging, besieging fortifications, and an occasional battle. Won by the Sword is a low-complexity game with emphasis on the players maneuvering their forces, but many decisions await. The low rules complexity allows each player, rather than being encumbered with rules, to focus on choices regarding how to manage his Campaign. 

Full Campaigns as named in the Playbook:    
1632 - The Lion Goes South 
1633 - The Great Mutiny
1634 - The Swedish Collapse   
1638 - Weimar's Triumph 
1644 - Turenne Take Command
1645 - The French Offensive
1648 - Last Gasp                                  

This 2-player game covers many of the great Campaigns of the the Thirty Years War in Europe 1614 - 1648. It is therefore mildly confusing to me that as this is Volume One in the series that the Campaigns and thus battles involved are from 1632 onwards, some 18 years after the Thirty Years War began. If this is to be a series on the Thirty Years War then surely start at the beginning and not halfway through. I am not a student of this period but I would be surprised if there weren't any notable altercations between 1614 and 1632 that could have made it into this game.

This being said let's do what we usually do and take a look at the production quality. First impression is that it is made with the expected quality resources, strong card stock for the many counters which also have clear printing and easy colour identification. Then there are the Player Reference sheets which are 4 sided, with clearly noted headings, steps and procedures. It is always good for the players when games have a reference sheet for each player rather than having to share one between them. The game map is unfortunately on paper and although it is well designed to show the point to point movement through the different regions and across coloured borders it is the fact that it is on folded paper that will cause the most concern - because the folds and creases make accidental Counter movement highly likely and also because if you play through all the Campaigns and scenarios it is almost a certainty that before you reach the last battle the map has suffered irrepairable damage through wear and tear; a game of this immensity really demands a mounted board not a paper map. There are 2 Forces cards - both the same - one for each player and a Left, Right and Centre "Battle Board" which is where Major Battles are fought.  Lastly there are the two booklets - the 16 page Rules and the 32 page Playbook.

If you look online you will see that there is a lot of complaining about the errors throughout the paperwork and that the Reference Sheets in particular come under immediate scrutiny. I am only going to mention two of the errors found and that's because they have already been well documented and noted online. Normally any errata is dealt with by us as it arrives in the context of play, with the players involved agreeing what they believe is meant and then continuing in accordance to their agreements. However the two I now mention are pretty glaringly obvious before you even start to play even if you just glance quickly at the Reference Sheet.
These are (with our home rules included):  
The Forage Results Table on the front page gives effects for numbers equal to or lower than 0 through to numbers equal to or higher than 12, somehow omitting the die result of "4". This is important as it is not immediately obvious  what the effect should be. For ease of mind we made a home decision to include the "4" in the 5-6 range thus making the table 0, 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-11 and 12+. If this was a numbers puzzle as in "which number comes next?" then the "4" would make it 4-6 instead of 5-6 as the increments are in 3's (1-3 4-6, 7-9) until 10-11 and 12+ so that's the approach we took. The next error on the Reference Chart is a little more challenging to determine.
On the Combat Table there is no clear order as it begins with lower or equal to 9, then goes 10, 11, 12 as one row before having 4 separate pairs 13 14, 15 16, 17 18, 19 20, then three triplets, three quad sets and then we get to the problem number "44". This falls into the 5-set of 42,43,(44),45,46, 47 but obviously then makes this 5 set a 6-set. Although it caused some rewriting on the sheets we took the 47 and added it to the next 5-set, making another 5-set of 47-51. This left the 52 in limbo so we put it into the first of the 6-sets, thus 52 - 57 adding the 58 to the penultimate set, making it up to 7 numbers 58-64, leaving 65+ as the lone final number in the Chart. As I said, it was a bit more of a challenge. If you decide to make these changes yourself, or even determine your own decisions on how these charts should work, then please only lightly pencil in your changes as GMT are almost certainly going to make all errata available on their website.

WON BY THE SWORD is set out in Campaign form with each Campaign created from a number of separate battles which can be played in or out of order as one-off games which you should be able to complete to satisfaction in one reasonable length game session. How long a session takes depends entirely on the players involved, there is no set time limit. Campaigns will usually need a minimum of three regular sessions. Battles are generally 3 Turns whereas full Campaigns take 7 - 9 Turns to complete.

This is a game that is card driven but at the same time it is a sort of resource management as well because it is almost as much economic starvation as combat power that will determine each side's tactics and strategies. Unlike many games where the cards have multi-effect possibilities but are a matter of choice which portion of the card is actioned, in WON BY THE SWORD each card section is brought into play and takes orderly effect when the card is played. 

​Each scenario (solo or n Campaign) begins with simultaneous setup by both players. Certain key points on the map begin with Garrisons and the forces for these are kept secret from the opposition. Other points on the map are left neutral in the beginning. While this may not be strictly historical, as there were bound to be influences one way or the other in each area, giving ownership of these somewhat lesser (but necessary) places at the start would only serve to complicate and slow the game unnecessarily. Garrisons are a means of supply and reinforcement. Units can be sent from them to back up (as in assist) or join Columns already in or about to enter combat. However, leaving a Garrison with low or no defence can be disastrous as they give valuable VPs to your opponent if they are captured. Thoughtfully the designer has built in a VP reward system so that capturing fortified Garrisons is of more value to the opponent, making Garrison care a fairly major part of any Campaign. Taking an opponent's Garrison is not simply a matter of marching a few units or a Column into the space and occupying it. Garrisons that are fortified have to be besieged and that takes time, planning and the constructing of siege engines. Sieges can be begun to take any fortified space though in general and for VP rewards they are mainly used against fortified Garrisons. Chivalry is not dead in this game and the opportunity to surrender is always offered when a siege is first initiated.

Players begin each Turn with 10 randomly dealt cards and will play two of these per Round to determine what they are doing and where and who is doing it. No additional cards are drawn after playing so 5 Rounds equates to one Turn, which itself equates to about 6 days (that's game time not real time). Playing wto cards allows players to plan, control, activate, operate and manouevre 2 Columns as was most likely for Commanders to do in this period. The main components of a Column are kept off the board and away from opposition sight. On the board a marker (Column 1 or Column 2) is used to represent the units in that Column. Unlike many other wargames Columns that meet up on the same points (area) can be absorbed to form one larger Column. This can also occur if there are already enemy units engaged there at the time; the new arrivals can merge and join in the fight. As Turns pass so do the seasons and the weather can take its toll of any unprepared army.

17th Century battles were often won or lost not just by the sword but also by the quality of Leadership shown. A brave, strong Leader could rally and rouse his men into almost superhuman efforts whereas a weaker Leader inspired little confidence unless the odds were overwhelming in his favour. In Won by the Sword each player has a number of Dynamic and Named Leaders as well as a contingent of Generics who can take over when a Dynamic or Named Leader is lost.  There are a selection of Chits drawn randomly (from their own specific pool of Chits) for Dynamic Leaders, depending on the Leader, the Campaign or Battle etc, which give them what can be called special abilities . This means that in different games or even in different battles in the same Campaign a Dynamic Leader may have the same pool of Chits but not always the same abilities available to them. This helps keep the game lively and interesting as the players have to determine their actions based on the current special abilities of their Dynamic Leader(s). For example just because a Dynamic Leader uses Forced Marchand Cavalry Charge in one battle doesn't mean he will have those same advantages in the next; it doesn't mean he won't either. These special abilities generally count for the Column being led by that Dynamic Leader.

Because of the number of Campaigns and Battles Won By The Sword is an ever-changing series of decision making by the players. Each battle can be, and usually is, fought somewhat differently from the previous. The circumstances may at first look the same for some battles but there are many small factors that can change the outcome, or if not the conclusion then the way it is reached. I am not a great history buff personally and this late-Renaissance-period is not one of which I am particularly conversive. However, because of the different possibilities open to me as a player in Won By The Sword I am enjoying learning as I play. If I discussed a battle or Campaign I have played it would mean little to you, the reader, as the choices I made and the options available to me will almost certainly be very different to those you will face in the same Campaign. What I can say about the game is if you play it in the spirit intended and use commonsense decisions whenever you encounter a conflict or confusing point of rule then there are a lot of good hours of playing here for you. I play a lot of boardgames of all types and I am used to seeing translations of German games (in particular) to American English. One of the things we often notice, and have a little chuckle at, is what we call "Rules for Americans". This is where a rule is stated, then repeated and then repeated again as if trying to get it into the American mindset which isn't always on the same playing level as the European (read German). This isn't meant in a derogatory manner it is just the different ways of thinking by countries with totally different languages, traditions and culture. GMT have opted for a short 16 page rules book for a game that ihas so many different possibilities that it deserves more in the way of description and examples of play. I would have liked the rules book to be larger with a more friendly approach. A player new to wargaming who likes this particular period may well think from the sub-title of the game "Great Campaigns of the Thirty Years War, Vol 1" that this would be a good place for their first foray into wargaming, especially with it having only a low-medium (4 of 6) complexity level. My personal view is that the rules are not as well written or put across as they could have been and that in most cases only a seasoned tabletop wargames player could be expected to read through them and begin to play without assistance. But get your head around the rules and you have a game here that has more to offer than many other historically based games.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2021